Getting Old Does Not Have to be Depressing
5/25/2012 8:17 AM
Of the roughly 35 million Americans who are 65 years of age or older, almost one in every five is depressed. No one argues that bereavement or loss, isolation, medical ailments or incapacity may represent genuine setbacks as a person ages, but depression is a significant step beyond just feeling down or blue. And it often goes untreated among older adults, because it is considered just a natural and inevitable part of aging. First, it is not inevitable, and second, depression can be diagnosed and treated.
Depression can be confused with other medical conditions and it also can be so slow in its onset, so it is hard to spot. If you are a caregiver to an older adult, watch for some of these characteristic signs and symptoms:
- Forgetfulness or confusion,
- Poor appetite,
- Self-imposed isolation or withdrawal,
- Angry outbursts or irritability,
- Suicidal thoughts or even hallucinations,
- A series of vague complaints, or
- Just slowing down in activities of daily living.
If an older adult in your orbit manifests any of the above symptoms, seek out a professional’s opinion. Recognize also that medicine will not alone (if at all) be the answer. While there are effective antidepressants in the medical armamentarium, the most successful therapy is linked to talk therapy. Talking to a professional who can help to process sources of depression is both validation to an older patient and a step along the path to a feeling more balanced.
Having given you advice on what to look for, let me also add that it is important that you not make the depression diagnosis yourself. Not only can depression be a nuanced condition, but there are also some conditions that will mask the depression or seem to be depression when they are not. The onset of dementia and its confusion can seem at first blush to be depression. Some depressions are situation-triggered such as death of a loved one or geographic relocation and may pass with support from loved ones and friends. And one of the most positive things a person who is feeling down can do is feel positive.
Sounds a bit crazy, but research shows that people who consistently accentuate the positive will not be as likely to be depressed even when life throws them a curve ball. As a conversation starter, when you visit ask your elder about the positive things that have happened in a given day. Encourage them to write down three positive things that happen in a daily log, and revisit their entries with them periodically. Also, encourage your elder to associate with other positive and upbeat friends. If they are considering a move to a senior residence pay particular note to the mood of the staff. Positive attitudes are contagious.
Charlotte Bishop is a Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Case Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago. Please email your questions to Charlotte Bishop.