הבלוג של הסבתא / general info / Depression: Senior Adults and the Elderly (Part I)

Depression: Senior Adults and the Elderly (Part I)

Have you ever thought about growing old and would not be able to do the things you are doing now? Have you ever ponder on the idea of dealing with different changes that you may encounter in later life? Age 65-70 or 80-90, retired, medical problems, death of loved ones, physical isolation... These things can lead to depression.

But what is really Depression and how can it affect your life and the life of the people around you?

Depression is a state of low mood and aversion to activity that can affect a person's thoughts, behavior, feelings and sense of well-being. It prevents you from enjoying your life like how you used to. It also gives impacts to your physical well-being like your energy, appetite, sleep, decisions and reasoning.

But, depressed mood is not always associated with psychological disorder. In fact, it is an inevitable part of aging. It may be a normal reaction to certain unfortunate life events or an effect of some medical drugs and treatments. It can also be a symptom of a certain medical condition or sudden physical, mental and psychological changes in your environment.

Many older adults and elderly people are suffering from Clinical Depression. Some of them are showing major signs of it but there are some who are in denial and still manage to go on with their lives despite of what they feel. But, regardless of how much challenges you face in dealing with depressed patients, there are many ways for you to do to help them overcome the symptoms.

Elderly: Signs and Symptoms of Depression:

In order for you to distinguish depression in the elderly, you have to begin with knowing the signs and symptoms:

1. Loss of Appretite leading to Weight Loss - without any medical/physical reasons, some elderly shows early signs of depression when they loss their appetite. "I'll eat later", "I don't feel like eating", "I'm full" and so on should be noted and shouldn't be taken lightly. When a normal old person started to shrug off food and sustenance, then you have your first sign. 

2. Sleep Disturbances - although most of the elderly were prescribed by their doctors with sleeping pills, there's no guarantee that these medications will work for people in depression. Despite of having a very low energy, people in depression has active imaginations. These scenarios and contemplation often occurs during sleep time and these are the cause of difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, daytime sleeping or even oversleeping. Usually, depressed people always find themselves awake in the wee hours of the night and having only 2-3 hours of sleep for 24 hours. 

3. Sadness - it is normal to be sad, especially if someone is grieving or in a very unfortunate situation. But excessive sadness is one symptom of depression that you shouldn't ignore especially if there is no significant reason to be sad at all. Elderly patients are mostly sad or lonely but they always find happiness by reminiscing their happy past or if they are with their children and family. But depressed people are difficult to please and not even interested in anything pleasurable. 

"While depression and sadness might seem to go hand and hand, many depressed seniors claim not to feel sad at all. They may complain, instead, of low motivation, a lack of energy, or physical problems. In fact, physical complaints, such as arthritis pain or worsening headaches, are often the predominant symptom of depression in the elderly." - helpguide.org

4. Fatigue - loss of appetite and lack of sleep can lead to physical fatigue. Which means, this is one of the symptoms you should give importance to. But depressed people does not just feel tired physically, they are also tired of practically almost everything. Tired of eating, moving, reading, breathing and living. When an elderly person tells you that s/he's tired, you have to go out of your way to find out Why, How and What s/he's tired of. 

5. Losing Interest in Hobbies or Pastimes - most of the elderly people are into hobbies like playing cards with friends, crochet, painting, swimming or gymnastics especially if they are still capable of doing such activities. But, when an elderly person starts to ignore his/her activity schedules, abandon his/her unfinished painting and engage in telling lies to his/her friends why s/he cannot go to their bridge session, then you have a potential depressed patient. 

6. Social Isolation - social withdrawal is one of the major symptoms of depression. They are reluctant to meet new and old friends, engage in social activities and even refuses to leave home. 

7. Low Self-Esteem or Loss of Self-worth -  self-loathing and feeling of unworthiness are often verbally projected by depressed elderly patients. Although most of the senior adults are always with these kind of perception, depressed people are in big dilemma. They always are afraid that they will be, if not yet a burden to their families and loved-ones. 

8. Death Fixation - Suicidal tendencies, whether you like it or not are often present in the minds and being of a depressed individual. Young or old, the most dangerous thought that a depressed person could ever have is how s/he can end his/her burden. Some say, those people who always say that they will kill themselves are bluffing and won't ever do it. The most dangerous are those who doesn't say anything about it but planning, processing and confirming the thought of death inside their head. 

There are some senior adults and elderly who deny being sad or depressed may still have major depression issue. So it is very important to look for other symptoms such as:

1. Aggravated but unexplained body aches and pain.

2. Anxiety and worries.

3. Irritability.

4. Unfocused or distorted and Memory Problem.

5. Neglecting personal care - forgetting medications, skipping bath and personal hygiene.

 

Causes of Depression in Senior Adults and the Elderly: 

Changes occurs during the later-life of an individual and CHANGE is the number one enemy of growing old. It is not easy to deal with changes and transitions in the environment when you are already in a situation when everything is practically DIFFICULT. These changes can be a risk factor and may trigger depression:

1. General Fears - fear of dying or death, abandonment, isolation and major health problems. 

2. Sorrow - death of significant other or loved ones, friends and family members who are even younger than you are.

3. Loneliness and Isolation - living alone, a declined social circle due to deaths or relocation, decreased physical mobility because of instability or illness.

4. No sense of Purpose - purposelessness due to retirement or declined health and physical limitations.

5. Health Problems - disability, chronic pain and cognitive decline. Significant body changes due to surgery or major illness. 

Depression can happen to anyone, at any age, 10 or 80, regardless of what social status you have or any accomplishments you've achieved. But it can be treated. With the right support, treatment and encouragement from loved ones, there's no reason not to overcome depression, feel better and live a happy normal life. In the next article, we will discuss the possible treatment and the roles of families, loved ones and caregivers in dealing with elderly patients with Depression.

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