National health awareness weeks are declared in order to attract attention to various health issues. There is National Immunization week, GERD awareness week and malnutrition awareness week. One of the most important is Mental Illness Awareness Week in October. The rate of depression in seniors is on the rise and family members and caregivers need to be aware of the signs and symptoms of it in order to help their loved ones. Here is what you need to know about mental illness in seniors.
Depression can worsen other health conditions
Depression and anxiety in seniors are serious conditions that can exacerbate existing health conditions and diseases. For example, if an older person has heart disease, depression can make the heart disease worse by increasing stress and creating a feeling of hopelessness that may prevent the senior from seeking, or adhering to, proper treatment. Statistics from the American Psychological Association (APA), show how prevalent depression is for seniors and the dangers it poses to them:
- 15-20 percent of older adults in the United States have experienced depression.
- Approximately 11 percent of older adults have anxiety disorders.
- Even mild depression lowers immunity and may compromise a person’s ability to fight infections and cancers.
- Depression is a major risk factor for suicide.
- In 2006, 14.22 of every 100,000 people age 65 and over died by suicide, higher than the rate of 11.16 per 100,000 in the general population.
- Non-Hispanic white men age 85 and over are at the greatest risk for suicide, with a rate of 49.8 suicide deaths per 100,000.
The biggest challenge in treating depression and anxiety in seniors is that it is difficult to diagnose. Older adults are more apt to seek treatment for physical ailments, rather than seek help for depression or anxiety. General physicians may not be in tune with the symptoms of depression and/or seniors may not want to talk about it. These factors make it important that friends and family members know the signs and symptoms of depression and can talk to a senior should they notice them.
Depression is not a normal part of aging
It’s important to remember that depression is not a normal part of aging. Seniors may become depressed due to isolation, loneliness or the rigors of coping with chronic illness. They may have a growing sense of uselessness or futility after retirement or the death of a spouse, friend or loved one. The early onset of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease can also create depression.
Some of the symptoms of depression in older adults can include:
- Memory difficulties
- Personality changes
- Physical aches and/or pains
- Fatigue, listlessness
- Loss of appetite, lack of interest in favorite foods
- Problems sleeping – either to much or too little
- Increased social isolation – hesitation to go out and do things or be socially involved
- Suicidal thoughts or feelings, especially in older men
- Feelings of sadness, tearfulness, emptiness or hopelessness
- Emotional, angry outbursts, irritability or levels of frustration that represent a change from the person’s normal emotional state
- Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things
Depression and anxiety can be treated
It is possible to treat depression and anxiety in seniors. Friends and family members may have to intervene and help the senior to seek treatment. The Catch-22 of mental illness is that it is defeating, and the person suffering from it may not realize they need help, or they may feel so listless and hopeless that they can’t motivate themselves to get help.
A specialty called Geropsychology is a psychological specialty that is devoted to the study of aging and the treatment of older adults. Geropsychologists design treatments specifically for older adults and the problems that are common to aging. According to the APA, “Geropsychologists help older persons and their families overcome problems, enhance well-being, and achieve maximum potential during later life.” As you seek help for a senior loved one, ask psychologists if they specialize in geropsychology. If they do not, ask about their experience with seniors and the issues of aging.
Treatments for anxiety and depression include:
- Psychotherapy: This is a form of treatment that involves talking about issues with a therapist in order to explore root causes of depression and anxiety and strategize coping strategies. It can also help individuals to identify negative thoughts, feelings and relationships in order to address them. With the help of a psychologist or therapist people can set new, positive goals in life to give them a sense of purpose.
- Medications: There are many medications that successfully treat depression and anxiety. Whether or not any given medication works well is highly individual. Several may need to be tried before the right medication and dose is discovered for each person.
- Alternative therapies: Some people find relief from depression by practicing Yoga, acupuncture, meditation and/or herbal supplements. These things should be considered carefully, taking into account any physical impairment. Herbal supplements can interact with prescription medications and lower their efficacy so they should be taken only after consultation with one’s physician.
Depression isn’t just “feeling blue” for a day or too. Chronic feelings and symptoms of depression and anxiety as described above need to be taken seriously and addressed in order to protect the health and well-being of seniors.
If you or your family member is considering in-home care as part of a plan to age in place, contact Family Matters In-Home Care today for a free consultation. Our team is dedicated to supporting your family and helping older adults enjoy life in the comfort of their own home for as long as possible.
Some of the services offered by Family Matter In-Home Care include: Alzheimer’s & Dementia Care, Bed & Wheelchair Transfer Assistance, Companionship, Housekeeping & Meal Preparation, Personal Care, Recovery Care, and Transportation.