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October 30, 2012 > How to Recognize Depression in the Elderly

How to Recognize Depression in the Elderly

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, depression in elderly people is a widespread and serious public health concern. It has been estimated that 15% of older Americans experience depression at some point and according to the Institute on Aging, minimum estimates of suicides among the elderly in the United States range from 6000 to 10,000 annually.

Rather than asking your loved one if s/he is depressed, ask:
Do you feel:
that you don't enjoy things you used to
that life isn't worth living

Are you:
sleeping more or less than usual
eating more or less than usual
very tired and sluggish

If the answer is yes to any of these and especially if there is more than one 'yes', please take this seriously. Do not be afraid to chat with your health care provider about what's happening with yourself or your loved one. They have heard it all and will be supportive of you. They WILL be interested in getting to the bottom of whatever's bothering you or your loved one. This is the kind of thing that is important to chat about sooner rather than later.

Undiagnosed and untreated depression in older individuals can affect overall day-to-day functioning. To compound the matter, there may be factors that mask signs of depression in the elderly and make it difficult for caregivers to recognize their loved one needs help. For example:

Side effects from some prescription medications can resemble symptoms of depression. Cardiovascular disease medication and hormones are among these. Caregivers may believe their loved one is only displaying signs of a drug's side effects and not be aware that depression is a contributing factor.

Depression is also often expressed through physical complaints. Furthermore, chronic medical conditions, such as Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease, may cause a loss of appetite, sleep impairment, and lethargy. These symptoms are also expressed in depression, making it difficult to determine which should be given priority: the condition or the depression that develops as a result of the condition.

The good news is that there are simple tests that can help determine if a person is experiencing depression, and there are a multitude of treatment options available. Anyone who believes their loved one needs help with depression should discuss it with their physician.

One way to help with depression is exercise. LIFE ElderCare has a proven effective Fall Prevention program available free of charge to those over the age of 60, or younger with disabilities, and living in the Tri-City area.

An added benefit from exercise is just how good it can make you feel. Participants in the program report a 72% improvement in mood. Medications are reviewed for interactions and a home safety assessment is done and minor safety modifications can be made at no cost to the participant. The 12-week program is free. Call Sandy at 574-2087 for information.


Note- There is a wonderful resource called the Friendship Line for seniors. For emotional support and reassurance by phone, simply call (415) 752-3778 or (800) 971-0016 and introduce yourself to a Friendship Line counselor.

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