Over 18 percent of the 35 million adults over 65 years of age commit suicide each year. Most have experienced depression throughout their life-time but it has gone undiagnosed or has been underdiagnosed by the medical community. Many think that depression is a normal part of the aging process or a reaction to chronic illness. The elderly have also experienced loss because of their age and may not recognize the symptoms of depression in themselves. (1)
Due to their own failing health issues, changes in their economic status, changes in living conditions, or loss of friends to death more seniors are depressed. They suffer from mental illnesses ranging from depression, anxiety, mood disorders and a reduced ability to complete cognitive functions. Depression in the elderly can be misdiagnosed as dementia, arthritis, cancer, heart disease, thyroid or Parkinson’s disease because the symptoms in an individual who has limited physical cabilities can be so similar.
Realistically, an elderly person suffering from depression should be under the care of a psychiatrist who specializes in geriatric populations. This age group has a considerably larger number of health care issues than do their younger counterparts and are on multiple medication regimens. Their age and medications make them more sensitive to other medications and they are more likely to experience side effects and drug interactions.
A psychiatrist or physician who is familiar with the elderly population will be better equipped to prescribe medications to assist the individual in the treatment of depression without creating another problem with side effects or drug interactions. For instance, symptoms of depression in the elderly can include memory loss, confusion, loss of appetite, vague complaints of pain, irritability and hallucinations. Many of these complaints mimic other conditions and some are not symptoms found in a younger population.
Treatment for depression in the elderly includes regular exercise, minimizing alcohol or recreational drug use, surrounding themselves with people who are caring and talking about thier feelings with someone they trust. Unfortunately, due to their often isolated situation many of these treatment protocols can be difficult to use.
As time progresses the number of seniors will only increase. Lifespans are increasing and the number of individuals successfully reaching 65 years of age is also increasing. This means that more and more of the senior population will experience mental health issues. The should be cared for in a setting that is appropriate for their age group and which addresses their other underlying medical conditions. Mental health care treatments and facilities designed for a younger population can not adequately meet the needs of a senior mental health care patient.
Changes in legislation are recognizing the seniors need for increase psychiatric care and are making advancements in improving this in regards to financial health care revisions so that they can get the care that they need. In addition, researchers are attempting to discover the exact link between other health issues co-existing with depressive symptoms. With hope and knowledge they will make the future just a little bit brighter for our seniors by finding a way to increase their quality of life.
(1) National Alliance on Mental Illness: Depression in Older Persons Fact Sheet
University of Maryland Medical Center: Depression in the Elderly
University of Massachusetts Lowell: Understanding Elderly Depression
Harvard Health Publications: Depression in the Elderly is Complicated but Treatable
Advances in Psychiatric Treatment: Suicide in the Elderly
The Bulletin of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law: Silent Suicide in the Elderly
National Institute of Mental Health: Older Adults: Depression and Suicide