Mental Health Awareness: Depression in Older Adults

Being an “older adult” myself, it was interesting to research this topic. Depression is a common illness in older adults, but “clinical depression” is not a normal part of aging.  As we get older, life can bring challenges such as a serious diagnosis, stroke, loss of a spouse or beloved friend, downsizing to a different home, etc. While these events can cause sadness and grief, most older people can adapt and move on to new ways.

Clinical depression occurs when symptoms persist for a few weeks and if not treated can lead to physical illness, loss of mental and physical function and prolonged suffering.  Elders statistically misunderstand that depression can be dealt with “on your own” and think it is just a normal expectation of growing older.  

What are common signs of depression?  Persistent sad, anxious or empty mood. Feelings of hopelessness,guilt, being a burden to others.  Irritability and restlessness. Loss of interest in once pleasurable activities. Decreased energy and fatigue. Difficulty concentrating, remembering and making decisions.  Sleepng difficulties. Eating more or less than usual with unplanned weight gain or loss. Suicidal thoughts or attempts.(People over 65 comprise only 13% of the U.S. population, but account for 20% of all suicide deaths, with white males having nearly six times the usual U.S. suicide rate!)
What risk factors can lead to depression?   Family or personal history of depression. Stress, including caregiver stress. Social isolation and loneliness. Lack of physical exercise or activity. Functional limitations that make participation in activities of daily living difficult.  Addiction and alcoholism.  Sleep problems. Medical conditions such as stroke, cancer, dementia or Parkinson’s disease.

Depression in older adults may be difficult to recognize because they may have different symptoms than in younger people, perhaps just vague physical complaints and may deny feelings of sadness. They may be feeling more of a numbness or a lack of interest in activities. They may not be willing to talk about their feelings. Older people tend to be stoic and keep things to themselves.

If you suspect depression in yourself or an older loved one it is time to talk to the doctor and be candid about your suspicions. Doctors are not mind-readers. The good news is that clinical depression is very treatable and can lead to a return of a much better quality of life!!

How is depression treated?  It is very individual based on the person’s physical and mental condition, medications they’re on, and the type of depression. The treatment may in include medication for depression, sleep, anxiety;  talk therapy, socialization or change in social environment, evaluating the current medication regimen and making adjustments, optimizing management of current chronic conditions, treatment for addiction or alcoholism.  It’s never too late!!!!
If you want further information and support, talk to your doctor or Google: Depression in the Older Adult.  Please refer to help resources on our church website under “Support” - “Mental Illness” - “Resources”.

Are you wondering what happened to that person or couple that sat behind you in church before Covid?  Give them a call to let them know you miss them. And please, check on your loved ones often and provide a listening ear, prayer and maybe a loaf of banana bread. God bless our church family.

-Sue Fink

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