With summer behind us and the days growing shorter and cooler, many people – especially those who are elderly and homebound – can experience a bit of an emotional downturn. For most of us, this “seasonal sadness” is quite normal, and presents no cause for concern, but it’s helpful to be mindful of a few common symptoms that might indicate more serious depression.
Depression affects one in five Australians – nearly four million people – and 18.4 per cent of those aged 65 or older.
Depression is not a normal part of aging, though many elderly people suffering from depression never seek treatment.
However, there’s many treatments available, and even those with the most severe depression can get better with treatment. Medications, psychotherapies, and other methods can effectively treat people with depression.
Research shows that 10 to 20 per cent of older patients seen by a primary care physician suffer from depression, and among the homebound that figure may be as high as 46 per cent. Worryingly the elderly represents 16 to 20 per cent of the nation’s suicide rate, with the highest suicide rates in males 85 years and older.
Depression in the elderly is frequently overlooked as it can so easily be mistaken for other age-related illness or loss. Seniors themselves may ignore the symptoms, believing their suffering is the result of growing older. Additionally, many seniors experience loss of social support systems due to the death of a spouse, retirement, or moving to a different home, and reactions to these losses may be misunderstood and remain undiagnosed as depression.
Physical conditions can further increase the risk of depression among the elderly. Certain medicines or combination of medicines have side effects that may contribute to depression, as does social isolation and living alone. As a result, effective treatment often gets delayed, leaving many elderly people to unnecessarily struggle with depression.
The most important thing is to help your loved one get an assessment, diagnosis, and treatment. Be observant and have a conversation with your loved one to further probe how they are feeling or find out what’s bothering them. Listen carefully and give them an opportunity to speak up. Depressed older adults often talk about the physical symptoms of depression first; listen for statements like “I’m not sleeping well,” or “I’m just not hungry.”
Seek out assistance, and reassure them that with a little help they can enjoy life again.