Depression can affect us all. You may initially develop the illness during your teenage years, or it could pop up later in life as depression in seniors is well-documented.
To gain a better sense of how prevalent depression is, consider some of the facts provided by the WHO. According to the WHO, over 264 million people all over the world are dealing with depression.
Given how prevalent it is, it should come as no surprise that depression is also a leading cause of disability and a “major contributor to the overall global burden of disease.”
You could even be related to someone who has dealt with or is still living with the disorder. Your older loved ones, in particular, are at risk of developing depression.
Depression and Aging
It is incredibly important to point out a few things regarding the relationship between aging and depression. While aging does indeed make a person more susceptible to depression, that does not equate to depression becoming an inevitable part of growing old.
As the CDC puts it, depression is “not a normal part of aging.”
Another troubling aspect of depression in seniors is that physicians don’t always treat it or even diagnose it properly. The main reason behind that is because the symptoms of depression can easily be confused with what many of us perceive to be normal behavioral changes that come with growing older.
Some medical professionals may hear about the concerns harbored by some senior citizens and think those are due to a different illness they have. If you hear that an older person is “feeling down” because they have a serious disease, it’s easy to interpret their sadness as a natural reaction to the news.
It’s not only the medical professionals who may be mistaken from time to time. The senior citizens themselves may not fully grasp their condition and misinterpret their depression for something else.
You may also encounter older individuals who do not consider their condition to be a big deal. They may shrug it off and think that it is something that will pass with time and certainly nothing that warrants a trip to the doctor or additional treatment.
Depression is a disease that has plagued people for centuries, but we have only recently begun to get a better handle on it. An older relative of yours may be hard-pressed to believe that they are truly depressed and may thus refuse treatment.
In the hopes of convincing your older loved ones that they should seek treatment for their depression, you can try to keep an eye out for symptoms to show them that what they’re going through is not natural.
The Symptoms of Depression in Seniors
As noted above, part of the reason why it is so difficult to diagnose depression in senior citizens is because of how easy it is to mistake real symptoms for behavioral changes associated with aging.
Another potential roadblock to a diagnosis of depression is that the symptoms of the disorder can vary by age. That could be a big issue if the medical professional working with your loved one is more used to working with younger people who are depressed.
Many of the symptoms of depression that affect senior citizens are also less obvious, which makes it more likely that they will disregard them. The onus is on the medical professionals to look harder for the symptoms.
Examples of depression’s symptoms that may manifest themselves in senior citizens are below.
If your older loved one tells you that he/she is feeling tired, that alone is not going to be enough to cause alarm bells to start going off in your head. Older people don’t have as much energy in reserve as their younger counterparts, so wanting to rest earlier in the day does not automatically seem like a big deal.
That fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of depression in senior citizens adds to the confusion. If your elderly relative talks about feeling tired earlier than usual, make sure to note it as it could be symptomatic of a more serious problem.
Increased irritability is another symptom of depression in seniors that can go undetected easily. This is a particularly hard symptom to spot because being irritable is something we all go through from time to time. You can have a bad day that maybe spills over into a bad morning, but then be completely fine after that.
To ascertain if your loved one’s increased irritability could be symptomatic of depression, try to see if it sustains over an extended period of time. A more prolonged change in demeanor could be a sign that they are currently experiencing depression.
Confusion is a symptom that many senior citizens and their loved ones are wary of. However, they’re wary of it not because they think it’s a sign of depression. They’re concerned that the confusion will link to dementia.
That’s not the only reason to watch for it, though. According to the National Institute on Aging, more occurrences of a loved one being confused or disoriented could be depression, and you must take that seriously.
More frequent occurrences of an older loved one getting confused or disoriented could also be explained by depression and that must be taken seriously as well.
This article from WebMD notes that insomnia is another symptom of depression in the elderly that you need to watch for. Insomnia is a symptom that can rear its ugly head the first time an elderly person experiences depression; it can also manifest again later if there has been a recurrence of the disorder.
The Risk Factors of Depression in Seniors
Watching out for the symptoms of depression in the elderly will be crucial to managing their condition and helping them recover. Ideally, though, you can prevent it from even getting to that point.
One way to do that is by keeping an eye out for risk factors of depression in seniors. Learning if your relative is at a greater risk for developing depression is important because that knowledge can help you become more proactive.
The following are some of the risk factors you need to look for.
Gender can play a key role in the diagnosis of depression. To be more specific, women are more susceptible to depression compared to men.
Per this article from VeryWell Mind, around 8.7 percent of women experience depression. That’s more than three points higher than the rate for men, which stands at 5.3 percent.
Recent Encounter with a Stressful Event
As much as possible, we want to shield our older loved ones from stressful situations because we know how bad it can be for their health. It can severely affect their mental health if they recently had a stressful experience.
Stress stemming from money issues or family problems can weigh heavily on senior citizens. Keep an eye on them as they go through those difficult times because they may develop depression.
Loss of a Loved One
Losing a loved one counts as a stressful event as well, but it deserves its own entry.
It’s difficult to put into words the kind of grief a person experiences when they lose their long-term partner. When you’ve spent decades together with the same person, he/she leaving your side is nothing less than devastating.
Sadly, death is an inevitable part of life.
If your grandmother or grandfather has lost their spouse, he/she can be overcome by depression easily.
In addition to the loss of a spouse, the death of a family member or friend can be the trigger for depression. Spend more time with your older loved ones during this trying time to help them cope with their grief.
Fear of Dying
Your own mortality tends to preoccupy you more as you age. It becomes impossible to ignore as your body starts to weaken, and you experience more aches and pains.
There is never an easy way to talk about a topic such as death, but it may provide comfort for your elderly loved one if you can sit down with them to talk about the fears they have.
We have different reactions to living alone. Some may relish the opportunity to take full control of their household and do whatever they want, while others may feel a bit lonely and wish they had someone around.
If your elderly relative is not fond of living alone, you can remedy that by asking them to live with you, but that may not be a workable solution if you have a full-time job and a family to take care of.
The good news is that there are assisted living facilities that can care for elderly loved ones while simultaneously allowing them to reside in a happy community.
Other Notable Risk Factors
Beyond the risk factors listed above, you need to be mindful of a few more things that can also be troubling to senior citizens.
Low self-esteem, a history of mental illness, and chronic illnesses can also make a person more susceptible to depression. Some forms of medication can elevate your loved one’s risk level for depression.
The Causes of Depression
Keep in mind that the items mentioned in the previous section are risk factors for depression. They are not the actual causes.
At this point in time, it remains unclear what exactly causes depression, but the factors below play a huge role.
Changes in Your Brain
The condition of your brain is not permanent. Elements of it may change over time, and that includes your brain chemistry.
The Mayo Clinic notes that the neurotransmitters in your brain may undergo changes themselves, and when they do, they can alter the organ’s chemistry. A chemical imbalance can lead to your mood becoming less stable and cause the onset of depression.
Aside from a change in your brain’s chemistry, there are physical changes that could also explain why people experience depression. How greatly these physical changes can affect your brain remains uncertain at this point, however.
Some individuals are more likely to develop depression due to their family history. If you have or had a relative with this mental illness, it’s worth taking the time to see if you have it as well.
For your older relatives, try to ask them if they remember a family member who had the condition. Knowing that bit of information can help you decide if you should take your loved one for screening even if they have not shown the symptoms of depression yet.
The Forms of Treatment for Depression
A diagnosis of depression does not automatically mean that you will need to live with that mental illness for the rest of your life. There are ways to treat it that are easily accessible.
After checking with your doctor, he/she may give you a prescription for antidepressants. These antidepressants work by targeting the chemicals in your brain and balancing them better.
Do note that antidepressants may not work right away, so exercising patience will be key.
You should also consult with your doctor regarding all matters related to antidepressants. Whether you’re planning to stop taking antidepressants or you’re looking to switch to a new variant, you must tell your doctor about that first.
Therapy is also an option for senior citizens currently dealing with depression. It’s important to understand that therapy works gradually. There’s no guarantee that you will feel better after a single session with your therapist.
Even on the low-end therapy treatment for depression, it can last for about three to four months. Still, the time commitment is more than worth it, given the potential benefits.
Different kinds of health problems can affect senior citizens, but some of them may go unnoticed. Depression can be one of those invisible conditions.
The good news is that we are not powerless against depression. There are different ways for us to manage that mental illness and meet the challenges that it presents.
You can give your loved one a better support system in his/her fight against depression by partnering with an assisted living facility. Contact Lakeside Manor now if you want to give your loved one more support against depression.