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
Cell Phones Nutrition and stress School Anxiety HK pen Parent peer pressure Self Image School Eating Disorder GirlStrong Anxiety Family Theory Prom Depression Political bias Death Parenting Teenagers Summer Plans for Teens DIY Marriage counseling College Girl Strong Limitations of counseling Heroin in the Suburbs History ADA Consequences Divorce School Retirement THE PALEO DIET Scapegoating Self-Esteem Butane Hask Oil Instagram Micro-aggression Confidentiality Medical Use of Marijuana in Oklahoma Family Systems Theory fads Support Group Social anxiety Audrey Woods Tumblr Amanda Percival Emotional Development Will counseling work quickly Teens and Smartphones Setting Boundaries for Your Teen Snapchat Teen Drug Use College Transitions Setting Boundaries with Adult Children What is domestic violence Role Models Newsletter Hanna Baker Childhood depression Holidays James Dobson Captain of Your Ship brain Mild-Depression Teen Parenting 710 Enabling Adult Children Children Panic attacks Chores for Teens Brain Research Drugs Drug Abuse Jay Asher Oklahoma Department of Human Services Social Media Terrorism and children self-sabotage Food Allergies Helen Keller How long should counseling take Oklahoma Statute on Marijuana Grandparent Initiative Legalization of Marijuana Technology Golden Child Teens Use of Technology bucket list Decision-Making Communicating with your child Prescription Drugs Aggregated News for Teens Disasters Early Treatment of Depression Emotions Chad McCoy David Feldman Call of Duty How do children process trauma Teenage Boys Millenials Parenting through Divorce Elizabeth Loftus Marriage Underage Drinking Unemployment Edmond Municipal Court United States Drug Enforcement Agency Prom guidelines for teens Unemployment and depression How prevalent is domestic violence How to control panic attacks Trauma Communication Exercise treatment for depression Jackie Shaw high school Americans with Disabilities Act The Martian Movie The Amazing Race Risk taking Funding Summer Bias and memory Facebook Prevention Panic Disorder Depression and social media Drug Use Dr. Ben Carson Disciplining Teens Is therapy forever Discipline Positive Thinking Marriage counseling National Drug Threat Assessment Summary Grandparents as parents How to manage anxiety Changing Problem Behavior Teen Suicide Spanking Codependency Anger Waxing Twenty Somethings Twitter Procrastination Normalcy Heroin Crisis AARP diet Andy Weir Prom safety Opiods Belinda Crosier Apps for Teens Parenting with purpose Teenage Development Organization Choices Bong Holiday stress Disability Teens and cell phones Edmond Character Council Links between unemployment and depression Bias What Matters Most Program Character Development Grounded Hope Supersurvivors When Teens Should Get a Cell Phone Family Roles Teen Jobs privilege Butane Honey Oil Communicating with your teen What to do when you are laid off Domestic violence resources Communication techniques for couples 5 Love Languages Ridley Scott Learning Disabilites Sanjay Gupta Edmond Family Counseling Learning goals Mayme White Miller Stress 13 Reasons Why NOT THE KETOGENIC DIET Isolation in teens Edmond Positive Illusions Sheila Stinnett Siblings in Conflict Mental Health Reading Child Abuse Misconceptions of Smoking Marijuana ADHD Movies for Teens Sexual Abuse How to detect signs of depression Independent Living Schedule 1 Drug John Goetz New year’s resolution Divorce with minor children Divorce Political Correctness list Parenting and Cell Phones Culture Edmond drug use Time Management How common are panic attacks Impact of Suicide Goal Setting Substance Abuse Teens and Time Management Freshman Year Affluenza gadgets Fidget Spinners Happiness Working Parents How to talk to your kids about terrorism Co-Parenting Summer time parenting Detox Diet Strong Willed Child Addiction spring Relationships Donald Miller Retirement Planning Back to School Fear How to recognize domestic violence Lee Daniel Kravetz Oklahoma drug use Speaker Listener Technique Marijuana The Martian Book Young Adults Adult Children Peers Teenagers Managing substance abuse Negative Thinking How many sessions do I need Tetra-Amelia Syndrome Child Development The Butterfly Circus non-verbal communication Therapy Teenage perception of drug use The Golden Years Microagression Parenting Personality Test Al McCormick Suicide Prevention Recommendations Why did the system fail Boundaries Quinton Ellis Developmentally appropriate strategies for grief counseling World Health Organization Conflict Co-Parenting Class Darcy McConnell Ben Carson College Age Children personal growth Feldman and Kravetz Annie Sullivan Michael Jackson Suicide Prevention for Teens Community Suicide Prevention Programs Positive Reinforcement Self Investment Gender Roles Presidential debate What Really Matters Drinking in high school Wax parenting college age kids Panic Grandparenting Entitlement Syndrome Alcohol College Campus MEDITERRANEAN DIET Bullying The Miracle Worker Great Depression Help for panic and anxiety Parkland Shooter Gun violence and mental health responsibility 13 Reasons Why Teen Safety Joshua and Rebecca Weigel HB 2249 Seniors Suicide Dr. Rhonda Patrick Dating