By Belinda Crosier, M.E., LPC
For a society as youth-oriented as ours, it might seem that depression and aging would be synonymous. However, contrary to what many professionals and lay people believe, depression should NOT be considered a normal part of aging. Just because old age is the latter stages of one's life does not mean it shouldn't be meaningful and enjoyable.
Depression in an elderly person can compound other conditions or illnesses, prolonging or even preventing recovery, in addition to simply robbing him or her of the normal joy of living. Lifestyle changes, inability to perform activities of the past, financial difficulties, isolation, chronic pain and buying into the belief that life holds little to look forward to all can be factors contributing to depression in elders. Sadly, as a society, we may unwittingly contribute to the last factor mentioned--by our attitudes about aging and the aged. We perceive every infant as precious; why can we not regard every elderly person as a triumph of survival, a monument to wisdom, a hero or heroine? Tragically, even though our elderly comprise about 12% of our total population, they commit 16% of the suicides. This disproportionate ratio is a glaring statement of the degree to which elder depression is dismissed, discounted and under-treated.
A surprising number of elders resort to alcohol use in later years; even though they often believe it relieves their feelings of depression, it actually intensifies them, as alcohol is itself a depressant. Alcohol use can result in accidental death from interactions with other medications, or more commonly, from falls and accidents from which the depressed aging person never recovers.
Unfortunately, diagnosing depression in the aging population is complicated; it can be a side effect of a great many medications, and there are numerous conditions that mimic the symptomology of depression. More importantly, many people of advanced years are reluctant to admit they feel depressed. Many are from an era when depression might have been associated with a lack in strength of character or personal determination. Depression is sometimes mistaken for dementia and left untreated; however, depression sometimes accompanies dementia and treatment may help with the confusion of dementia. It's also sometimes difficult to discern true depression from the effects of bereavement or a recently-acquired disability or illness. Sleep deprivation can be a symptom of depression but can have other causes which result in confusion and increased emotionality that look similar to depression. It's vitally important for those who interact with an aging person to pay attention and note changes in the person's mood, energy level and general frame of mind. Consider what the person was like before; if there has been a noticeable change, it might be time to consult with a physician.
Treating depression in the elderly can also be more complicated. The bodies of the elderly may be more sensitive to the side effects of medications, plus there are usually more medications to consider for possibilities of interactions. The half-life of antidepressants may be extended in an elderly person due to slower metabolism, making it more difficult to adjust for the optimal dosage. Older patients may be resistant to taking antidepressants either because of their negative beliefs about depression and/or because it can take as long as a month to see any noticeable effects from the medication.
Forgetfulness, either that associated with aging or that which sometimes accompanies depression itself, can prevent one from taking the medication on a regular basis, thus further diminishing its effectiveness.
What can you do if you suspect an elderly person in your life is depressed? For starters, just verbalizing your observations in a casual, non-judgmental way might open the door for a conversation about depression. You might even want to avoid using the word depression initially, referring instead to the observed behaviors as a condition or illness for which treatment is available. Keeping a rating chart of pertinent behaviors might help form a more objective basis for approaching the matter. Whatever your conclusions, consultation with a physician is imperative. A physician can conduct tests to rule out physical problems that might be imitating depression and also determine if medications are indicated. However, if a physician dismisses your concerns about possible depression as being a normal part of aging, don't hesitate to get a second opinion. A short depression screening questionnaire can be administered by a mental health professional to help clarify if further investigation is warranted. A great many elderly people respond positively to therapy, which generally helps them examine and reframe the thoughts that fuel their depression. Group therapy has been shown to be effective, in some cases more so than individual. Being that there are several options for treatment of elderly depression, no one should have to suffer from this disorder in what should truly be the golden years!
Belinda Crosier, Masters of Education and Licensed Professional Counselor at Edmond Family Counseling. She can be reached at 351-3554.
Edmond Family Counseling Articles
Articles by the Counselors at Edmond Family Counseling
Spanking Terrorism and children Apps for Teens What is domestic violence Feldman and Kravetz Social anxiety Supersurvivors Schedule 1 Drug Teens Use of Technology Parenting with purpose Micro-aggression Underage Drinking College Age Children Holiday stress Teens and cell phones Cell Phones Marijuana Helen Keller The Golden Years Depression Role Models Captain of Your Ship Facebook Social Media Microagression Opiods Normalcy Substance Abuse Teenage Development Divorce School Fear Working Parents Presidential debate Waxing Bong Divorce with minor children parenting college age kids College Emotional Development Quinton Ellis Organization Panic Disorder Drugs Consequences What Matters Most Program Positive Thinking ADHD The Martian Book Childhood depression Holidays Child Abuse The Martian Movie Grounded Hope Adult Children Parenting through Divorce Divorce Time Management Americans with Disabilities Act Family Theory Seniors Why did the system fail Anger Ridley Scott Choices THE PALEO DIET Drinking in high school Community Suicide Prevention Programs GirlStrong How to control panic attacks Speaker Listener Technique How to recognize domestic violence Peers Lee Daniel Kravetz non-verbal communication Decision-Making Managing substance abuse Chores for Teens Affluenza Snapchat Edmond Character Council Anxiety Prom safety How to manage anxiety Teen Parenting Nutrition and stress Setting Boundaries with Adult Children Entitlement Syndrome Technology Medical Use of Marijuana in Oklahoma Tumblr THE KETOGENIC DIET spring AARP How to detect signs of depression Panic attacks History Donald Miller Young Adults Audrey Woods College Campus Family Roles Fidget Spinners United States Drug Enforcement Agency Teenage perception of drug use Stress Dating Disciplining Teens Bullying Teen Suicide Political Correctness Edmond Family Counseling Prevention Trauma Personality Test Bias Will counseling work quickly Legalization of Marijuana Millenials Hanna Baker Negative Thinking Chad McCoy The Miracle Worker Gender Roles Oklahoma Department of Human Services Girl Strong Funding College Transitions Child Development World Health Organization Retirement Planning The Butterfly Circus How many sessions do I need Edmond responsibility Self Investment self-sabotage Children Is therapy forever Reading Summer time parenting ADA The Amazing Race Dr. Rhonda Patrick Learning Siblings in Conflict Joshua and Rebecca Weigel personal growth Teen Drug Use Help for panic and anxiety Strong Willed Child Instagram What Really Matters How long should counseling take Codependency privilege Annie Sullivan Al McCormick diet Learning Disabilites list Therapy Teen Safety National Drug Threat Assessment Summary How common are panic attacks Summer high school Summer Plans for Teens 13 Reasons Why Mental Health Communication Back to School Parent peer pressure Grandparents as parents Impact of Suicide Co-Parenting Class Parenting Teenagers Michael Jackson Golden Child Teen Jobs Support Group Oklahoma drug use Drug Abuse Risk taking John Goetz Sexual Abuse Prom 710 Grandparenting Communication techniques for couples gadgets How prevalent is domestic violence David Feldman Movies for Teens Retirement Detox Diet brain goals bucket list Ben Carson Relationships Sanjay Gupta Drug Use Exercise treatment for depression Teenage Boys Happiness Butane Honey Oil School Anxiety Prom guidelines for teens Culture Mild-Depression Confidentiality Disasters Gun violence and mental health Teenagers Teens and Smartphones Developmentally appropriate strategies for grief counseling Mayme White Miller Suicide Prevention Recommendations Edmond drug use Sheila Stinnett Discipline Jackie Shaw How do children process trauma Oklahoma Statute on Marijuana Dr. Ben Carson Setting Boundaries for Your Teen Scapegoating Isolation in teens Freshman Year Newsletter Domestic violence resources Boundaries Heroin in the Suburbs Bias and memory Brain Research Positive Reinforcement Prescription Drugs Self Image Tetra-Amelia Syndrome Parkland Shooter HB 2249 Parenting Heroin Crisis Disability Andy Weir Addiction Wax Enabling Adult Children 13 Reasons Why NOT Limitations of counseling James Dobson Food Allergies New year’s resolution Early Treatment of Depression Call of Duty Great Depression DIY Marriage counseling Twenty Somethings Marriage counseling Teens and Time Management Amanda Percival Alcohol Co-Parenting Emotions Twitter Independent Living Goal Setting Jay Asher Links between unemployment and depression What to do when you are laid off Suicide Butane Hask Oil Family Systems Theory Grandparent Initiative Belinda Crosier Character Development Eating Disorder Parenting and Cell Phones Procrastination MEDITERRANEAN DIET School Unemployment Conflict How to talk to your kids about terrorism Misconceptions of Smoking Marijuana Marriage Political bias Communicating with your teen HK pen Unemployment and depression When Teens Should Get a Cell Phone Edmond Municipal Court fads Self-Esteem 5 Love Languages Depression and social media Darcy McConnell Communicating with your child Panic Changing Problem Behavior Suicide Prevention for Teens Death Aggregated News for Teens Elizabeth Loftus Positive Illusions