It is common to see depression in the elderly, but this should not be confused with it being normal. Depression in the aging population affects almost 6 million people older than age 65. Only about 10% receive some kind of treatment for their depression.
The reason for this is that the elderly person often has different symptoms of depression when compared to younger people, which may sometimes be confused with side-effects of medications or symptoms of other illnesses they may have. The Difference in Depression in the Elderly Population and in Younger People
Depression affects the older population differently than it does younger people. In older people, depression often happens with other medical conditions and lasts a longer period of time.
• Depression in the aging population often raises their risk of cardiovascular disease and death from any type of illness.
• Depression also decreases the elderly person’s rehabilitation potential. Studies of patients in a nursing home showed that those who suffered from depression had an increased chance of dying.
• Depression has also been linked to an increased chance of having a heart attack. For this reason, it is essential to make sure that the elderly person is treated for the depression, even if it isn’t very severe.
Doctors use a series of questions that can screen for depression. It allows them to diagnose the disease and to treat it better. Doctors should routinely check for depression in the elderly, such as during a wellness visit or a visit for any other reason.
Depression also increases the aging population’s risk of suicide, especially in men. The suicide rate in individuals between the age of 80 and 84 is twice that of younger people. The National Institute of Mental Health thinks that depression in the aged population is a significant public health problem.
The Centers For Disease Control report that white American males age 85 and older have the highest suicide rates as compared to any other demographic, and this rate is 4x the population as a whole; 51 out of every 100,000 white men age 85 or older commit and succeed at suicide each year.
Risk Factors For Depression In The Aging Population
Here are some things that increase depression in older people:
• Stressful life events
• Lack of social support
• Being widowed, divorced, unmarried, or single
• Being female
• Medical conditions, such as chronic pain, dementia conditions, cancer, diabetes, atrial fibrillation, hypertension, and stroke further increase the chances of getting depressed.
• Abuse of illicit drugs
• Recent loss of a loved one
• Chronic or severe pain
• Past attempts at suicide
• Having other illnesses
• Being socially isolated and living alone
• Having a fear of death
• A family history of depression
• Some type of injury to the body image
• Certain combinations of medications
Getting older is often seen along with a loss of social support because the person has changed their location, they have retired, or have had a death of a spouse or another loved one.
Because of these changes in the elderly individual’s circumstances and the fact that older people are expected to decrease their activity level, the family and the patient’s doctors may miss the signs and symptoms of depression. This means that treatment often is delayed, causing many older people to deal with depression unnecessarily.
The brain scans of those who first get depressed at an older age often show spots on the brain that might not be receiving enough oxygen, probably from suffering from high blood pressure. Chemical changes in the brain cells may increase the likelihood that the person will be depressed, even without any life stressor.
How Insomnia Is Related To Depression In The Aging Population
Insomnia is generally one of the signs of depression. There have been studies showing that insomnia is also a risk factor for the onset and recurrence of depression, especially in the elderly.
Many experts recommend that the older person avoid taking benzodiazepines or the newer hypnotic drugs (such as Lunesta and Ambien). According to the American Geriatric Society, these drugs carry a risk of falls, respiratory depression, and impaired alertness.
Nowadays, geriatric consultants like to treat insomnia in the aged population with a low-dose tricyclic antidepressant or the hormone melatonin. Other possibly sedating antidepressants, such as trazodone or Remeron, are sometimes given for both depression and insomnia in older people.
A new sleep aid, called Belsomra has been found to be effective in the treatment of insomnia in the elderly. If there isn’t any improvement in the person’s sleep pattern, a psychiatrist may recommend psychotherapy or other types of medication.
Treatment Of Depression In The Aging Population
There are many treatment choices for people with depression. They include ECT (electroconvulsive therapy), counseling, psychotherapy, or medications.
Depression may be seen in the form of physical complaints, rather than the typical symptoms of depression. This often sets back the time for appropriate treatment.