As we age, our immune system begins to weaken. That’s why older adults seem to get sick more often than their younger counterparts. In fact, about 80 percent of older adults are likely to experience at least one chronic illness and at least 50 percent of them battle at least two or more health conditions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). One of the more common, but less understood and therefore less diagnosed conditions is that of depression in older adults.
Currently, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIM) has noted that of the older adult population, only 1 to 5 percent have actually been diagnosed with depression. Experts speculate that this number is likely higher, but due to the sometimes-difficult nature of diagnosing depression among older adults it becomes unclear as to how many truly suffer from this condition.
Several factors play into the small percentage of diagnoses including generational factors as well as depression often being misdiagnosed with dementia, grief and other chronic illnesses.
Depression in older adults is a very serious condition and can lead to suicidal thoughts and tendencies. Often, those suffering from depression will show signs of chronic aches and pains, restlessness or oversleeping, sudden changes in weight, difficulty concentrating, difficulty remembering things, feelings of hopelessness and guilt, a lack of interest in favorite activities, and ongoing fatigue.
The fact is that as we age, we are more exposed to the loss of friends, family members and other loved ones, which often triggers the onset of grief. While grief and depression are different as grief is a normal part of the human body’s reaction to loss, the two can appear similar. Those that suffer from grief that lasts an unusually long period of time or that can seem a bit more severe are likely suffering from the onset of depression.
It can be very difficult for not only a caregiver to recognize depression, but for an older adult with the condition to recognize and accept that this is what they are experiencing.
This condition is often misdiagnosed with the signs and symptoms of dementia in older individuals as forgetfulness as well as the inability to concentrate and having a difficult time making decisions. Due to one’s age, it is usually the first guess for many, which is why it is so important to seek professional medical assistance and avoid self-diagnosis. For those that work as caregivers, jotting down the symptoms and potential triggers of someone suspected of having depression will be key.
For those that are unsure as to why they suffer from aches and pains with no clear medical reason, begin to note these feelings and when they occur as well. Bring these notes to your physician.
While depression at an older age can be somewhat scary, it is treatable.
The first step is recognizing the signs and symptoms in order for an individual to receive a proper diagnosis. There are a few different types of depression that often can affect an individual such as persistent depressive disorder, minor or major depression and anxiety. Seeking medical assistance and bringing the list of ailments and triggers will help a physician better determine what an older adult may suffer from.
Additionally, there are those who may be more at risk for experiencing depression. Those that are commonly socially isolated, have poor sleeping habits, have been diagnosed with a chronic illness such as heart disease, cancer or diabetes as well as those who have a genetic history of depression in the family are at an increased risk. Also, more females are likely to suffer from depression at an older age as well.
Other triggers to be aware of are medications currently prescribed. Many medications including Chantix, the smoking cessation drug, as well as many type 2 diabetes medications can increase feelings of depression. Opiates for chronic pain can also increase the likelihood of a depression. Being aware of these potential medications that you already take will help in determining your potential diagnosis.
From receiving therapy or medications to even experimenting with new dietary elements, yoga or a variety of exercises – these are the many options for combatting depression.
For those that don’t want to add another medication to their daily routine, discuss alternative treatment options with your doctor. Also note, that once diagnosed properly and a course of action for treatment is determined, many older adults with depression begin to see relief in as little as two weeks.
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