Vail Daily column: Depression in our elderly
Ryan Summerlin March 4, 2013
For much of our country, winter signals a change – not only in climate, but in mood. As the days grow shorter and the sun seems to rarely make an appearance, our moods grow darker. This climate change makes it difficult for us to hold on to those sunny, care-free days of summer, and the euphoric feeling that generally is attached to summer weather. Yet, depression, especially in our elderly, is not simply a seasonal affect on mood; it is a major force that needs to be dealt with directly.
In the United States, “15 out of every 100 adults over age 65, are affected by depression,” according to the Geriatric Mental Health Foundation. That number, although much too large for comfort, does not indicate that depression is a part of the aging process. It does, however, open queries as to why 15 percent of such a content group of adults (generally having led good lives, raising children into adulthood, becoming grandparents, feeling good about their legacies, etc.) suffer with depression.
Many factors play into the reason our elderly have such a high rate of depression:
• Chronic pain.
• Long-term use of medications.
• Cognitive decline.
• Low self-esteem.
• Loss of those close to us.
• Fear of the unknown, i.e., death, financial set-backs, health concerns, etc.
Depression is often difficult to diagnose in the elderly as multiple other factors play a part in one’s mood. For example, the loss of loved one may make it appear the surviving spouse is depressed when he/she is actually in a long grieving process. There may be issues with prescription medications that over the long haul can present side effects that mimic depression. The loss of cognitive ability can be seen as depression entering an elder’s life, when in reality it could be the beginning of a form of dementia.
One of the major issues regarding depression in our elderly is that family and physicians seem to diagnosis depression as the root cause for an elder’s mood; when it may well be that the mood could be caused by (or confused with) some of the reasons mentioned above, like medication issues, illness, cognitive decline, etc.
If properly diagnosed, “80 percent of those suffering from depression recover and return to their normal lives,” according to the Geriatric Mental Health Foundation. It is important that family and caregivers pay close attention to an elder’s mood swings and the many facets of the person’s life in an attempt to determine if depression is truly active, or might it be a result of any number of other causes. If there is any concern at all, a visit to the elder’s physician should be scheduled with a full discussion held regarding what the caregivers are noticing.
Remember, most elders are not depressed, even though they might show signs of depression from time-to-time. It is in their best interest to explore why their mood may be changing.
Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. He may be reached at www.visitingangels.com/comtns or 970-328-5526.