Depression disproportionately affects the elderly. Unfortunately many times the signs of depression can be confused with signs of aging. In order to properly diagnose and treat depression in the elderly, individuals, their care takers and health care providers need to be vigilant in looking for the signs and symptoms. Depression in the elderly can be debilitating and effect other areas of health. Determining if depression is involved is an important part of the health screening process.
Warning Signs of Depression
When dealing with the elderly and depression, some detective work is often needed. It is important that the elderly and their caretakers know the signs and symptoms of depression. As the elderly tend to have a lot of confounding factors coming into play at the same time which affect their health, symptoms of depression are easily masked as signs of aging. Symptoms of depression vary from person to person.
Some common signs are:
o Tiredness and lack of energy
o Difficulty focusing, remembering and staying on task
o Feelings of guilt, emptiness or helplessness
o Sleeping too much or insomnia
o Eating more or less than normal
o Loss of interest in activities that were enjoyed before
o Crying for long periods of time
o Thoughts of suicide
While these are only a few of the possible symptoms, one can readily see how depression can easily be mistaken for signs of aging, precisely because these symptoms are so prevalent among the elderly. Mental and physical sickness and "old age" are often considered to be one in the same. According to the Rotterdam Scan Study, people with an early onset of depression had an increased risk of developing Alzheimer's Disease. The study also found that the depression symptoms did not have to be obvious to run this risk. This study highlights the fact that early detection and treatment of depression in the older population is vital in the fight to lower the risk of Alzheimer Disease. Much more research is being done to investigate the link between the two. It is clear however, that the two are linked.
What You Can Do to Improve Quality of Life
One thing is certain: the earlier depression is diagnosed and treated, the greater the chance a person will recover and regain a healthy lifestyle. There are many treatments available for depression. Once diagnosed a referral should be made to a geriatric psychiatrist. This is a specialist who is trained to treat depression in the older population. The treatment can vary from things as simple as talk therapy, diet changes and exercise to medication. A combination of all these methods is often used.
It should be understood that the elderly deal with problems that younger generations do not. They are often dealing with deaths of loved ones, illness and retirement. They may suffer financial burdens, not to mention a sense of loss of control over their lives. These may be issues they have never dealt with previously and will need to learn new methods to deal with them emotionally.
Diet is an important factor in dealing with depression in the elderly. Older people may not be eating like they should. They may be living alone or on a limited income. Their diets should be carefully analyzed. While there is no one food that will "cure" depression, as the saying goes, we are what we eat, and food does often affect how we feel. Plenty of whole fresh fruits and vegetables are essential. These will provide essential vitamins and minerals as well as antioxidants. Carbohydrates in small amounts can have a calming effect. Whole grains are especially important for heart and digestive issues. Good sources of protein, especially those with Omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish and legumes, are recommended.
Exercise is an excellent way to make anyone feel better. During exercise, the brain releases a neurotransmitter called serotonin as well as endorphins. These are the body's natural "feel good" chemicals. They help a person sleep better, stabilize the mood and even affect appetite and cell generation.
Exercise does not have to be an intense workout at the gym. It can be something as simple as a brisk walk through the park for 10 to 15 minutes. Elderly people could be encouraged to take a dance class or a fitness class with other seniors. This will provide exercise and also give them needed social interaction.
Getting the elderly population involved socially is also an essential part of depression treatment and prevention. Many elderly people withdraw. They may have experienced the loss of a loved one or friends and feel they are alone. Getting them back out in the community and involved in activities that they find enjoyable is helpful.
As you can see, communication and education are vital in detection of depression in the elderly. If you believe an older person you care about may be suffering from depression, bring it to the attention of a health professional. Effective treatment may make a significant improvement in the elder person's overall health.