Depression is not just a “down mood”. It is a very real, physical disorder that currently affects over 20 million adults. 6.5 million of these suffering individuals are past the age of 65. Sadly, though depression is the most common and completely treatable mental condition, it is also the most overlooked, especially in the elderly. This oversight is an unfortunate one; so many people unnecessarily suffer with spirits that sink as their age rises. Also, the grave danger of elder suicide looms; over twice as many aging adults take their own life each year as compared to the younger population. A greater awareness of depression and its remedies could eliminate much anguish for us and for those whom we love.
Depression is both an emotional disturbance and a physical irregularity. The physical element is precipitated by brain chemistry, and can be alleviated if properly diagnosed. Very often, this disorder is not detected in the elderly for the simple reason that its symptoms, lost among the many others that often accompany old age, are not recognized by physicians. It is also frequently assumed that depression naturally accompanies the onset of old age. This should not be the case.
If you or a loved one experience sadness for long periods of time, or have lost interest and enjoyment in those things that were formerly appealing to you, perhaps you are suffering from depression. Other symptoms include lack of appetite, sleeping too much or not enough, unusual weight gain or loss, excessive irritability or other abnormal emotional outbursts, and withdrawal from friends and family. This sort of depression could be attributed to a number of specific causes, some of which are genetic, biological, or neurological factors; jarring life changes, illness, or a combination. Since the physical and mental aspects of our being are so intimately entwined, stress on either system will impact the other. A surgery or the onset of grave illness can trigger a decline in our mental health; likewise, disorder in the mind will cause our physical health to decay. The loss of a loved one or the common realization that long-term care is imminent (with its isolation and high financial demands) can trigger this sadness. Depression is not automatically a weakness or a shortcoming in character; whatever the cause, this illness can and should be treated. Aid can be obtained in a number of ways.
A first line of attack would be to encourage your loved one to see his doctor. Adult children can assist the process further by accompanying the parent to make sure the problem isn’t minimized and to help their parent to discuss their feelings, something they may not be accustomed to doing. In addition, support groups are likely available in your area and addressing the issue with families with similar challenges can bring relief. Finally, a geriatric care manager can be helpful in coordinating care for seniors with more complex needs to make sure that depression symptoms are dealt with along with other concerns. If someone you love is struggling with these issues, it could be the most caring thing you could do to take action. For referrals to a geriatric care manager, or help with senior care legal and financial issues, Heritage Elder Law & Planning remains available to assist you.