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  • Depression in Elderly

    Depression in Elderly or Older Adults

    September 27, 2015

    By: Julie (Anne) Galiñanes, MSW, LCSW


    There are many factors that may lead to depression later in life. Some of these include loss of a spouse, friends and/or pets, retirement (loss of purpose), medical problems, and/or loss of mobility/independence leading to loss of driving privileges and subsequently a lack of transportation, leaving this population at an increased risk for isolation and loneliness. For these reasons, oftentimes both older adults and medical professionals think that aging and depression go hand-in-hand, and that it is a natural reaction to the many losses and challenges faced by the older population. Not only is this belief wrong, but it can have many ill consequences. It is very important to keep in mind that while depression may be common in older adults, it is NOT a normal part of aging.

    What do the symptoms of depression look like in the older population?

    • memory problems
    • physical complaints, including pain
    • confusion
    • memory problems
    • trouble sleeping
    • poor hygiene
    • lack of enjoyment in previously enjoyed activities
    • weight loss/loss of appetite
    • irritability
    • delusions
    • hallucinations

    Who’s at Risk for Depression?
    Particularly older women are at greatest risk for depression. Caregiving for an ill spouse, parent, or child, and biological factors such as hormonal changes contributes to a higher rate of depression among women. However, white males ages 85 and older have the highest rate of suicide in the U.S. Also at risk are any older adults with a prior history of depression.

    Treatment Options
    Treatment prognosis in this population is high. Usually a combination of medication (such as SSRI’s, NSRI’s, or MAIO’s) and psychotherapy can be very effective in the treatment of depression in older adults. Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) can also be used for severe depression. Building support systems and linking older adults to resources in the community such as senior centers and transportation can also have a positive effect in treating depression as it reduces loneliness and isolation in older adults.

    Undiagnosed depression can lead to medical illness as well as cognitive decline in older adults and can be fatal. Seeking treatment is therefore essential.

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