Understanding Depression in Older People
Depression among older people is a very real and concerning issue and is often caused by completely different events and experiences than the types of depression seen throughout younger generations. Health issues, loss of close friends in their age group, not having a strong support network and feelings of isolation can all impact strongly upon depression, leaving an elderly person feeling helpless and alone.
You may have a close family member or friend who has been a source of strength throughout your life but whose behaviour suddenly changes. You may simply put this down to the ageing process, but it could be a key sign of depression. There is still a stigma associated with depression among older generations, which is why they may also be in denial and not seek appropriate help.
Depression can be treated, and this will ultimately give your friend or relative a far better quality of life. Unfortunately, however, current statistics show that only around 10% of cases of depression in older people are being treated. This is something that needs to be addressed, because it can also lead to an increased risk of other health complications.
Added Risks of Depression in Older People
Alongside an increased risk of heart disease and heart attacks, depression can suppress the immune system, making other illnesses worse and slowing down recovery times. This means that death rates among depressed older individuals are increased.
Recognising Depression: Signs and Symptoms to Look Out For
Seeing close friends and relatives in your age group passing away is difficult to face, especially for individuals who are already feeling isolated and do not have a solid support network around – residential care, a care home or a day centre can provide this. Older women are especially prone to depression, notably if their spouse has passed away or is experiencing sudden health problems.
Depression can be a side effect of many different medications, and so individuals taking a variety of medication should be monitored closely, as well as individuals who have a family history of depression. Signs of depression include insomnia, suicide attempts, frequent conversations about death and substance abuse.
Changes to the body, such as cancer surgery or an amputation, can have a negative impact on mental health. Such a sudden change in their lives can be a shock, and they may subsequently feel a sense of loss, as well as having to face thoughts on their own mortality. Similarly, conditions such as chronic pain can make an individual feel helpless and prompt bouts of severe depression.
If you are concerned about a friend or relative, taking them to the doctor or raising concerns with residential care staff as soon as possible is imperative. They may undergo a brain scan to ensure that blood flow has not been compromised or be prescribed medication that will assuage their symptoms of depression, which will be both a positive and an empowering experience. Depression is not something older individuals have to live with. Realising they deserve to have a good quality of life, no matter their age, will leave them free to pursue their interests and to remember that old age can be a positive experience when they are surrounded by people who care about them.