Have you ever thought that elderly may commonly struggle with depression? Most of the debates, articles and talks about this disease doesn’t include this target. But it is good to know that this is a very widespread and a serious phenomenon, often leading to death.
Scale of the problem
Depression is on the 4th place among the chronic and harmful problems confronting our society today. It’s predicted that in 2020 may take the 2th place, right after the heart diseases. With no doubts, this is very complicated and destructive ailment, affecting all areas of life and lowers significantly life’s quality. Furthermore, depression doubles an elderly person’s risk of cardiac diseases. It’s worth noting, that physical conditions like stroke, atrial fibrillation, diabetes, hypertension, cancer, dementia, and chronic pain further increase the risk of depression.
What’s more alarming, 50% of the sick makes no attempt to the treatment, what’s worrying especially because of the fact that it’s treatable. Additionally, seniors’ depression, more often than usually, leads to suicide attempts. It’s estimated that risk of suicide for people aged 80-84 is two times higher than in the rest of the population suffering from depression! It’s no wonder that The National Institute of Mental Health considers depression of people aged 65 and older to be a major public health problem.
Depression affects 15-20% of people over 60 years old (among people regularly receiving medical assistance it goes up to 30%). Similarly, in Poland this rate reaches 29,7% (Mossakowska, Więcek, Błędowski, 2012). Certainly, seniors are more vulnerable to suffer from depression. For example, they lose their sense of autonomy and usually good health, limit the network of social contacts and experience loneliness, face the financial problems and a sense of worthlessness and uselessness. From the medical point of view, they are reduced with the number of neurons and neurotransmitters. For example, Parkinson’s disease directly affects brain chemistry and can exaggerate depressive symptoms.
The most important key to the improvement of this situation is growth of self-consciousness of elderly. Main problem of the diagnosis is a lack of their knowledge about the characteristics of mental illnesses. Seniors may mislead the symptoms of depression with somatic ones. Especially in a situation when they suffer from other diseases constantly. Secondly, they are afraid of social stigma and are more prone to accept their condition than younger people. Sometimes they can be also too proud or ashamed to ask for assistance, or they don’t want to become a burden to their families.
Diagnosis of the occurrence of depression can be made using psychological tools as i.e. “GDS – the Geriatric Depression Scale (Yesavage et al.,1982) – a self-assessment scale to be filled independently by the test person. Additionally, we can observe the following symptoms:
- Sadness, anxiety, irritability,
- Lack of motivation and energy,
- Fatigue, memory problems,
- Loss of interest in hobbies and socializing,
- Feeling slowed down,
- Increased use of alcohol or other drugs,
- Weight loss or loss of appetite,
- Sleep disturbances,
- Fixation on death; suicidal thoughts or attempts.
As seniors put their interest in technology increasingly, they can measure mood by themselves very easily and quickly. For this purpose, incredibly useful tool can be i.e. How Are You App – mood tracking mobile application (gethowareyou.com) created by Quantum Lab Co.
Obviously, in the treatment of depression a big role is assigned to the psychopharmacological treatment, the electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) and psychotherapy. Nevertheless, it is widely known that the better practice is to prevent rather than to cure. With no doubts, presence of family and friends may be a crucial element. Not only in the terms of depression. Social isolation is considered as the one of the most important risk factors for the development of various diseases (Cole, 2007). Person suffering from depression, usually, will not ask for help itself, so the interest and the engagement of other people will be priceless. Good solution for single people can be groups of support, Senior clubs, etc. Another remedies are physical activity, balanced diet and involvement in the learning of new skills (i.e. surfing the Internet). In many cases, therapy or healthy lifestyle changes can be as effective as antidepressants in relieving depression, but without the dangerous side effects.
It’s worth to remember that depression is a highly treatable medical condition and isn’t a normal part of getting older. As our society is ageing, we should take care of seniors, providing them helpful technological and medical tools and emotional support.