Recognizing Depression in Elders

~Jennifer B. Buckley


“Depression in elderly people is a widespread and serious public health concern,” according to the National Institute of Mental Health. It has been estimated that 15% of older Americans experience depression at some point in their golden years. In nursing homes, around 20% of the residents are depressed, especially those living with a serious medical condition, like cancer or heart disease.

Unfortunately, depression goes under-diagnosed and under-treated in older Americans and this can seriously affect the worth of their life and their overall functioning. If ignored long enough, or, if the severity increases, depression could lead to suicide. In fact, America’s older population is responsible for 25% of completed suicides. There are complicating factors, which may mask signs of depression in the elderly. Factors that prohibit caregivers from recognizing the disorder or realizing their loved-one may need help. They may be:

Side effects from certain prescription medications can resemble symptoms of depression. In this case, caregivers may not realize their loved-one is depressed, but only displaying signs of drug side effects. Cardiovascular disease medication and hormones are among some of the drugs, which may cause a person to have side effects that are similar to symptoms of depression. 
Depressive symptoms sometimes include mental cloudiness or confusion. These symptoms can parallel the normal aging process as many people have come to expect the elderly to have some cognitive deterioration. The quandary is that normal aging may be blamed for the mental confusion and not depression. 
The loss of friends and loved ones is a common occurrence of aging, which may cause much despair. Depressive symptoms include feelings of hopelessness and sadness. These symptoms could be blamed on a recent loss to your loved one, and not on depression. 
Chronic medical conditions such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease may cause your loved one to experience a loss of appetite, sleep impairment, self-pity and lethargy. These symptoms are also encased in symptoms of depression. The dilemma in this case is whether to target your loved-one’s illness for the depressive symptoms or depression itself. 
Real problems could develop if caregivers assume that depressive symptoms are causal of another underlying problem. To be safe, have your loved one’s doctor evaluate his or her condition. Also, there are online screening tests your loved one can take, print-out and bring to their doctor to help diagnose depression. These tests can be found at: – The Aurora Depression Self-Test. – The Online Depression Screening Test brought to you by the NYU Department of Psychiatry. – Sponsored by the National Mental Health Association. 

According to Darlene Nipper, senior director of public education for the National Mental Health Association, “Our online depression screening test is a means to enhance communication between patient and doctor. It can be used as the first step toward diagnosing depression.” The association believes that confidentiality is extremely important so the web site does not ask anyone to sign in. Additionally, results of the screening are given back to the person almost immediately.

“The online screening test has been an extremely useful tool for people,” said Ms. Nipper. “We’ve had more than 4,000,000 visitors to our website, many of which have taken advantage of the depression screening test.”

The biggest benefit of online depression screening tests is their ability to aid caregivers and their loved ones on how to talk to their doctor about depression, a sometimes difficult condition to discuss.


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Filed under adult children of aging parents, Alzheimer's Disease, care giving, dementia, elder care raleigh nc, Geriatric Care Management, long term care planning, NC, Raleigh

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