Insightsthe blog of Porter Hills
Recognizing Depression in Older Adults
Andrea Wilson, R.N.
Residential Living Clinical Manager
Porter Hills Village
Click here to watch the WZZM13 Senior Wellness segment on this topic.
Depression can occur at any age. Many people think of depression and suicide as a teen and young adult problem. However, older adults make up the second highest population of suicides in America. According to the CDC, suicide occurred in 18.6% of adults 85 years older in 2013. Symptoms of depression can affect every aspect of your life but often can go unrecognized. Many older adults become isolated with fewer people around to recognize the signs. Some people may interpret the symptoms as part of the normal aging process, and many times depression doesn’t manifest as sadness but other physical symptoms such as pain. Depression may affect your energy, appetite, sleep, hobbies, and relationships.
This time of year, you may hear more people talking about “seasonal depression” or seasonal affective disorder (SAD). In Michigan, this is particularly prevalent as an average of 65% of our daytime hours are cloudy from the months of November to February lowering serotonin and melatonin levels. But SAD is just one form of depression. Major depression, situational depression, persistent depressive disorder, and bipolar disorder are just a few of the other types of depression that someone may experience.
So how do we recognize signs of depression in the older adult? According to the National Institute of Mental Health, symptoms of depression may include:
- Sadness or feelings of despair
- Unexplained or aggravated aches and pains
- Loss of interest in socializing or hobbies
- Weight loss or loss of appetite
- Feelings of hopelessness or helplessness
- Lack of motivation and energy
- Sleep disturbances (difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, oversleeping, or daytime sleepiness)
- Loss of self-worth (worries about being a burden, feelings of worthlessness or self-loathing)
- Slowed movement and speech
- Fixation on death; thoughts of suicide
- Memory problems, slowed movement and speech
- Neglecting personal care
It is important to note that there are many medical problems that may contribute to depression. Individuals who experience conditions such a stroke, Parkinson’s disease, hearing loss, visual loss, cancer, heart disease or dementia may be more prone to depression – especially if their condition is painful, disabling, or life-threatening.
If you are an older adult, the National Institute of Mental Health also recognizes you may be at a higher risk if you:
- are female
- sleep poorly
- are lonely or socially isolated
- have a personal or family history of depression
- use certain medications
- suffer from a brain disease
- misuse alcohol or drugs
- have experienced stressful life events such as loss of a spouse, divorce, or taking care of someone with a chronic illness
How do you get help?
Know you are NOT alone. If you feel you may be suffering from depression, it is important to seek treatment. Talk with your doctor or someone you feel comfortable confiding in to help. There are many treatment options. Medications, talk therapy, exercise, yoga, hobbies or activities, proper nutrition and adequate sleep are all suggested treatments to help combat symptoms of depression.
What can you do to help someone you suspect is depressed?
Talk with them, invite them on outings, make sure they can take care of themselves and are in contact with their physician. A significant source of depression in older adults comes from isolation. Older adults may not be able to get around as easily and may lose connections they once had with people in the community. Having friends and family around helps to fight the feelings of loneliness. Living in a community setting can have a big impact on decreasing isolation and increasing the amount of meaningful engagements and sense of purpose in individuals experiencing the effects of isolation.
If you are having suicidal thoughts:
If you are thinking about harming yourself or attempting suicide,
- Call your doctor immediately.
- Call 911 for emergency services.
- Go to the nearest hospital emergency room.
- Call the toll-free, 24-hour hotline of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255); TTY: 1-800-799-4TTY (4889) to be connected to a trained counselor at a suicide crisis center nearest you.