What About the Elderly? A look at Depression in Older Populations


If someone were asked to picture an elderly person, it would be likely they would picture someone who is wise, with years of experience under their belt- possibly a doting grandparent, but rarely would the image of a depressed individual come to mind.  Because of this stereotype, depression among seniors tends to go unrecognized and is brushed off as a result of aging.  However, senior citizens tend to be one of the most at risk demographics for depression.

When trying to pin point the cause of depression, it’s important to look at life events that could influence changes in emotional wellbeing.  A major factor includes a loss of independence that an individual was accustomed to having prior to their declining condition.  Loss of loved ones can increase loneliness, while the transition from work to retirement can prove difficult- suddenly banishing the day-to-day routine a person might have known for years.  However, physical changes can also occur in the brain, including inflammation of blood vessels, restricting blood flow to parts of the brain, damaging nearby tissue, causing problems in nerve connection.  This leads to the problem of “vascular depression”(“Senior Health- Depression,” 2013).

Failing health is another important factor that contributes to a sense of loss of control, and in turn impacts one’s emotional health with such things as decreasing self-esteem or increased anxiety.  Social withdrawal is common, creating a spike in suicidal thoughts.  Men over the age of 75 actually have a higher suicide rate than young and middle aged men.  Shockingly, white males, 85 years and older hold the highest suicide rate over all other demographics (“Senior Health- Depression,” 2013).

So how can younger generations help elderly loved ones who are suffering?  It is important to be aware of early signs of depression, because the sooner the problem is recognized, the better the chance of recovery.  Warning signs include a change in appetite, insomnia, and memory loss- things that seem to be common features of aging.  Therefore, it’s important to be aware of physical limitations such as changing activity levels and dietary needs, along with being respectful of individual preferences.  Not surprisingly, senior citizens might not be open to adopting new habitats or trying new activities that others enjoy.  Another over looked means of support is being tactful with words of encouragement.  Sometimes things said with good intentions can be interpreted as further confirmation of his or her declining state, drawing unwanted attention to increasing dependence on others (“Aging and Depression,” n.d.).

A better understanding of depression among elderly people can improve treatment options and outcomes for those suffering. In addition, it has an impact on the actions and social support provided by loved ones and health care workers towards this forgotten and sometimes neglected age group.  Awareness of the matter can provide a decrease in depressed symptoms, allowing for an improved quality of life among senior citizens.

References:

Aging and depression. (n.d.). Retrieved October 4, 2015, from http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/aging-depression.aspx

Senior health- depression. (2013, July). Retrieved October 4, 2015, from http://nihseniorhealth.gov/depression/aboutdepression/01.html

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