Identifying Depression in the Elderly

Depression is a condition that impacts children and adults of all ages, though in elderly populations, depression often goes untreated. In part, this is likely due to the misperception that depression is a ‘normal’ part of the aging process. The fact is, that depression is a serious issue within elderly populations, and as with other age groups, it is often highly treatable. Studies indicate that 1-5% of elderly people living within the community are clinically depressed. Twelve percent of elders who are hospitalized are depressed, compared with 14% of those who require in-home assistance for a health problem. Thirty-nine to 47% of elders who live in nursing homes are depressed. Depression in the elderly can be triggered by the challenges of old age, such as the loss of physical abilities or the loss of a spouse and peers.

If depression within the elderly population is left untreated, which seems to be the norm, the liklihood of developing health problems and disabilities is increased. Also, the risk of suicide increases with age. White men over 85 represent the highest rate of suicide in the United States. Depression can be harder to diagnose in the elderly than it is in younger populations. Elderly people may present with a different constellation of symptoms than younger adults, and yet still be depressed nonetheless. Symptoms of depression in the elderly often masquerade as somatic (physical) symptoms. The following symptoms when noted in the elderly population could be illustrative of Major Depressive Disorder:

1. Heart Palpitations

2. Restlessness

3. Fatigue

4. Tremors

5. Body Aches and Pains

6. Nausea

7.Shortness of Breath

8. Heavy Perspiration

9. Memory Problems

10. Difficulty with Concentration

If physical conditions are ruled out, and an elderly person presents with several of these symptoms, they should be assessed by a mental health professional for depression. Many elderly patients however resist the notion of seeing a therapist as many grew up in an era when emotional problems were stigmatized. For this reason, many depressed elderly patients first end up in their general practitioner’s office or in the Emergency Room. There is a strong connection between the body and the mind, and any clinical mood disorder can worsen one’s physical condition. This is particularly worrisome in elderly populations where health is a prime concern. For this reason, as well the opportunity to lead a happier, richer life, it is important for the prospect of depression to not be overlooked when evaluating the overall health of an elderly patient.

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