Combating Depression in Older Adults

While depression is not a natural part of aging, about 7% of the general population of elderly adults has been diagnosed with major depressive disorder, according to psychologist Dr. R.Y. Langham.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates up to 13.5% of elderly patients receiving home health care or who are hospitalized may struggle with this disorder.

Dr. Langham notes older adults have several risk factors that contribute to depression. “Chronic medical illnesses, cognitive decline, and the side effects of medications can play a significant role. Additionally, life events like decreased mobility, social isolation, bereavement, or even a history of depression can make older adults more vulnerable.” 

Recognizing The Symptoms

If someone notices an older friend or loved one is feeling sad or listless, is that person depressed? Not necessarily. According to the CDC, it’s appropriate to be concerned if these feelings last for weeks at a time. 

Ryan Hetrick, a therapist and psychologist, says depression symptoms include “feeling hopeless and/or helpless, difficulty concentrating, withdrawal from family and friends, changes in appetite, difficulty sleeping, and lack of interest in activities that were once enjoyed.” 

For those who may notice these symptoms in themselves, the key to dealing with them is getting help. You can contact your primary care physician to get connected to a therapist or psychiatrist. A referral may be required for some insurance plans, so it’s always a good idea to see the primary care doctor first.

As most adult children know, however, getting an elderly parent to the doctor can be a fight, and that struggle may be more difficult if the conversation is about seeing a therapist. According to licensed clinical social worker Mindy Crouch from Care, a website helping provide care options, “Many of our older relatives grew up in a different time with institutionalization or very negative societal attitudes towards mental health care.”

Crouch advises having a conversation with loved ones to help them understand they deserve to feel better, and therapy may be a helpful part of that self-care. Loved ones should work to reassure these older adults that seeking therapy is not shameful or a sign of weakness.

This is where the primary care physician can assist. The doctor can urge the person to seek help. Most older people will do as their physicians ask, even if reluctantly. Once they start therapy, they may be more inclined to continue if they see a positive change in how they’re feeling. 

Prevention and Treatment

Knowing depression in older adults is an issue, what can you do to help prevent it? Experts agree the number one method of keeping depression at bay is staying engaged with others. 

Licensed marriage and family therapist Michelle Landeros encourages older adults to help themselves by “Engaging in social activities, seeking purpose (be it through hobbies, volunteering, or even a part-time job), and maintaining physical health…”

According to Licensed Professional Counselor Marissa Moore, keeping up with doctors’ appointments is crucial to avoiding depression or spotting it early. She says, “Regular medical check-ups can help identify and address any underlying health issues or medication-related factors that may contribute to depression.” 

Like Landeros, Moore also recommends older adults stay as active as possible. Even if they are engaging in light physical activity,“…exercise has been shown to improve mood and reduce the risk of depression.”

If an older adult has been diagnosed with depression, what are the treatments? Modern mental health has come a long way, and there are many solutions that can help alleviate symptoms of depression. 

Psychiatrist Ketan Parmar, M.D., offers a list of treatments that includes medication, therapy, lifestyle changes, and even neuromodulation. This method involves using electrical or magnetic stimulation on particular parts of the brain that control mood.

Although electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) has a checkered past, times have changed, and it can be used effectively and safely. Other neuromodulation methods include transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), vagus nerve stimulation (VNS), and deep brain stimulation (DBS). 

Dr. Parmar explains, “Neuromodulation can help older adults with depression who do not respond well to psychotherapy or medication by improving their mood and cognitive functioning.”

Dr. Parmar says medication can be an effective method of treating depression. Because of potential drug interactions and side effects, he advises it should always be under close supervision from a doctor. Physicians should follow up frequently to adjust dosages as necessary. 

According to Dr. Parmar, depression in older adults may not have exactly the same symptoms as it does in younger people. He said this population may not cry or seem sad but may instead be more irritable and apathetic. He also said depression can increase cognitive impairment, such as memory loss or confusion. This underlines the importance of seeing a physician for these symptoms to distinguish between depression and early signs of dementia. Early diagnosis and treatment help preserve function for a longer time. 

Although depression may crop up, it doesn’t have to be a normal part of aging. Early detection, treatment, and frequent follow-ups can help keep this disorder from taking over someone’s life.

This article was produced by Media Decision and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.