Depression and Aging Adults
Depression is a major health concern in our country and discriminates against no particular group. The disease affects all races, ages and has no regard for income. The focus of this article, however, is the expanding number of older folks who may experience depression.
Although adults 60 years and older compose 13% of the U.S. population, the use of mental health services is below the expected limit of use. Older Americans are disproportionately likely to commit suicide. Individuals over 65 account for 20% of all suicide deaths, with white males being particularly susceptible.
Up to 5% of those persons over 65 suffer from some form of depression. This does not include the normal experiences of sadness, loss, or grief that all people feel as part of living. Major depression is persistent and can interrupt people’s ability to function. Depression should not be considered a normal phenomenon of growing older.
Both health care providers and the patient may have difficulty recognizing the signs of depression.
The National Institute of Mental Health has listed a few questions to consider when discussing general health concerns and the possibility of depression.
If some of these feelings or symptoms are persistent, lasting more than several weeks, and occur more often than not, talk about them with your healthcare provider. This may provide the best way to properly diagnose the problem and have a positive result ––feeling better.
Ask yourself if you are feeling nervous or “empty”, guilty or worthless, very tired or slowed down, don’t enjoy things the way you used to, restless or irritable, as if no one loves you, life is not worth living. Are you sleeping more or less than usual, eating more or less than usual, having persistent headaches, stomach aches or chronic pain?
Some of these symptoms may be present with other illnesses as well, however, the possibility of depression should not be overlooked.
New technologies reveal that in depression neural circuits in the brain that control mood, thinking, sleep, etc. can fail to function properly and that the chemicals used by the brain to communicate are out of balance.
Antidepressant medications and psychotherapy are effective treatment for depression. More than 80% of people with depression improve when they receive appropriate treatment. This includes the older population.
Your primary care provider, local office on aging or local mental health providers are resources where additional information may be gathered on available services.