Depression is one of the most common mental health problems facing older people. Your mood is not the only thing affected by depression; you can also become physically ill and left unchecked it can affect your health, increasing the risk of serious disease and even death. Depression not only affects the sufferer, but also those who care for them. Many different forms of depression can affect older people. These can affect how you feel about yourself and can have an affect on all areas of your life like sleep, appetite, hobbies and socialising.
Although no two experiences of depression are the same there are a number of common symptoms which occur. The most common include a loss of interest in activities that you’d normally enjoy and a constantly low mood. Feelings of guilt or worthlessness and poor motivation are also usual. Many sufferers experience sleeping problems such as insomnia or sleeping excessively. This can lead to a lack of energy or cause you to constantly feel tired. Another symptom common to depression is a poor appetite and the resulting weight loss this brings. Sufferers will often feel agitated or irritable. Physical symptoms can also appear with headaches, chest pains and palpitations being the most commonly reported. To be diagnosed with depression the sufferer will have experienced these almost every day for at least two weeks.
There’s several triggers which can lead to depression in later life. Older people are often more susceptible to physical illnesses and loss of functions can sometimes cause depression to develop. Worries such as the loss of a loved one and money issues are also potential causes. And feelings of loneliness or isolation can often contribute. As older people are usually faced with more significant life events than their younger counterparts it’s suggested that this could be the reason that older people are at an increased risk of developing depression. Sometimes, however depression may develop for seeming no reason at all. In many cases older people won’t report the symptoms due to the stigma attached to mental health issues. And similarly when symptoms are reported they can be mixed up with other age-related disorders like dementia or Parkinson’s disease.
Older people, especially men, have an increased risk of suicide and the most common risk factor is depression. Research shows that around half of elderly people who commit suicide were suffering from depression at the time. There are several other risk factors; being single or divorced, living alone and substance abuse have all been shown to increase the risk of suicide in later life. There are several warning signs which can indicate depression or suicidal thoughts. Experiencing a major life event such as the loss of a loved one or other personal loss can be a major cause of depression. Many sufferers will become increasingly isolated and may develop a lack of grooming and other self-care issues. Sufferers often stop taking medications or build up a supply of them which could potentially be used for suicide. Similarly any talk of suicide or unusual behaviour can also be an indicator.
Fortunately, research has shown depression in later life to be highly treatable. And many sufferers can go on to enjoy life once more. Depression is usually treated with a combination of therapies and medications. The most commonly prescribed psychological treatments include cognitive-behavioural therapy and interpersonal therapy. These are ‘talking’ therapies and the patient will discuss problems with life, difficulties they may be facing and recieve counselling for relationship worries with a psychiatric professional.
Antidepressant medication is shown to relieve symptoms of depression in most cases. Such medication may not work straight away and a common problem is stopping the medicine before the effects have been fully achieved. Similarly alcohol and other medications may interfere with their effectiveness. Another common medication for depression is selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI’s) which increase the level of neurotransmitters in the brain. There are also a great deal of alternative therapies such as St John’s Wort but not much scientific research exists to supports their use. Regular exercise and maintaining a healthy diet has also been shown to ease the symptoms of depression.