Depression In Seniors

Depression & Seniors Grows As We Get Older

As we get older, we face a multitude of physical problems. These can include diabetes, arthritis, and high blood pressure, just to name a few. Doctors are always looking for these when we go for a checkup. One thing that most general physicians don’t look for until we mention it is depression. Current estimates show about 6.5 million older American’s suffer from depression. This is about 18% of the 35 million Americans aged 65 years or older. Understanding depression, the causes, symptoms and what we can do about it can help our senior years be fulfilling and joyful.

What Is Depression?

Everyone experiences the blues or sadness at some point in their lives. It can be from grief, life situations or wounded self esteem. This is normal, but when these feelings become overwhelming, it is not. Depression is a serious medical condition and can be characterized by prolonged feelings of sadness that last weeks or months. This can include feelings of sadness, helplessness, hopelessness and worthlessness and keep you from functioning normally.

For seniors, it is not a part of getting old. Many seniors are happy and feel full-filled. So why do seniors
have a higher rate of depression?

What Causes Depression In Older Adults?

There is no one thing that causes depression. This is true, no matter what the age. For seniors, it can be psychological, biological genetic or environmental. There can be imbalances in the brain chemicals that are believed to be a factor in depression. Also, depression tends to run in families, and so if your parents had depression, you are more likely to have depression.

Some other factors that may cause depression are:
 Major life change. This can include the loss of the family home, a death of a spouse, friend or other loved one, retirement.
 Medications. Some medications, like those used for high blood pressure, can trigger depression. If you are experiencing depression and have hypertension, talk to your doctor about whether it could be the medication
 Hospitalization or major or chronic illness. This is true of any age, but since older people have a higher rate of these, they are more likely to develop or exhibit symptoms of depression.

How Do They Diagnose Depression In Seniors?

Depression can be difficult to diagnose in seniors and many general practioners miss it. Because everyone assumes that depression is a part of the normal aging process. They also believe it is a natural part of chronic illness, loss and getting older. It also can be mistaken as a part of another illness such as:
 Alzheimer’s Disease or other dementias
 Arthritis
 Heart Disease
 Stroke
 Cancer
 Thyroid Disorders
 Parkinson’s Disease

Also, many older Americans don’t realize that it is a serious illness and are less likely to talk to their doctor about it. They may also worry about the costs of treatment or even feel guilty or ashamed for feeling the way they do.

Many men over the age of 85 take their own lives and have the highest rate for suicide. Many of these men have seen their doctor within the last month. Another thing that makes diagnosis difficult is that older people experience depression differently and will show different symptoms than their younger counterparts. The symptoms for seniors can include:

 Memory Problems and Confusion
 Loss of appetite
 Weight Loss
 Insomnia or difficulty in sleeping
 Irritability
 Social withdrawal
 Hallucinations
 Delusions
 Vitamin Deficiency. There are certain vitamin deficiencies that have been linked to depression such as vitamin D or folic acid.

With all of this going on, how can doctors differentiate between depression and other illnesses? How can they diagnose depression in a senior?

Well, one thing a doctor can do is a complete physical to ensure that the symptoms you are experiencing is not some other illness. A review of all your medications is also in order, as a simple medication change could resolve the symptoms. They also can do a mini depression questionnaire and exam to see if the symptoms are truly depression or not.

You can help your doctor by answering his questions honestly. Talk about your symptoms openly. Most depression can be helped with medication, therapy, medications changes and some dietary changes as well as other things at home.

What Can I Do To Reduce My Depression And Its Symptoms?

Besides being honest with your doctor, there are some things that you can do at home to help you decrease your symptoms. These generally don’t require any extra equipment.

These things include:
 If you can, try to get at least ½ hour of direct sunshine or indirect sunshine every day. Direct sunshine is better as it activates the vitamin D in your body. Without sunshine, vitamin D can’t be used. Also, light itself has been shown to reduce depression.
 Get Social. Okay, you may have lost many friends, as happens as we get older, but there are places that you can go to that have socialization, along with things to do, meeting others of your age and even social events. These places include your local senior center and senior daycare. You can go out to coffee or other beverage with friends or family. Anything that gets you out of the house and stops you from ruminating on things.
 Get support. Turn to friends and family. Tell them some of the things you are going through. They don’t have to fix it, they just have to listen. And talking about it can help you to reduce the amount of stress you are going through.
 Try to get enough sleep. For older people, that is generally 7-9 hours. Being tired will only increase your symptoms. To do this, you need to keep the same schedule. Go to bed at the same time every night and get up around the same time every morning. Don’t drink caffeine after 2 pm.
 Get a pet. Pets are known to help alleviate depression. When we get older, we lose a lot of friends and family. Couple that with retirement and we may feel useless. Caring for a pet can help you to feel useful and a pet gives unconditional love and constant companionship.
 Dietary Changes. You need to eat somewhere around every 3-4 hours. These don’t have to be big, full course meals, but can be a snack that is healthy. Eat complex carbohydrates such as whole-wheat pasta, oatmeal, whole grain breads and baked potatoes. You may want those quick a sugar fix or comfort foods like French fries or regular pasta, but they will only make you crash in energy and mood quicker.
 You eat super foods. These are foods that are rich in nutrients that can boost mood. This may be banana, brown rice and spinach.
 Get your vitamin B. Deficiencies in B vitamins like B-12 or folic have been linked to depression. Try eating citrus fruits, dark, leafy greens, beans, eggs and chicken.
 Get regular exercise. You may not be able to run a marathon, but you can get some exercise every day. Take the dog for a walk, go outside and play with the dog. Just do something that gets you up and moving.

Depression is not a part of getting old. While seniors do have the highest rate of depression, that doesn’t mean that they have to continue to suffer. By talking to your doctor honestly, having a complete physical that includes checking your thyroid levels, your vitamin D, folic acid and vitamin B12 levels, having a depression check, and doing those things that you can at home, you can identify if you have depression and begin to treat it.

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