Claire Hamilton was getting worried about her Aunt Julia. Julia always
seemed to have some new excuse to stay home. She had already, months ago,
stopped volunteering at a local Head Start program because her arthritis was
bothering her. Now Claire found herself on the phone pleading with her aunt to
join the family for birthdays and other celebrations. Claire finally went to
visit Julia. She found that her aunt had lost weight and appeared tired, and
Julia's normally tidy apartment was a mess.
When Claire expressed concern, Julia admitted she'd been
thinking a lot about death and said it might be better than going on the way
For millions of people, chronic illnesses and depression are facts of life. A chronic illness is a condition that lasts for a very long time and usually cannot be cured completely, although some forms of depression and other illnesses can be managed through diet, exercise, and certain medications. Examples of chronic illnesses include diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, kidney disease, HIV/AIDS, lupus, and multiple sclerosis.
Many people with chronic illness experience depression. In fact, depression...
Or take Al Cannon: His wife, Betty, was worried by a change in
his personality. For 15 years, the couple had enjoyed retirement, traveling,
and spending time with their eight grandchildren. Al had been a natural leader
-- someone his fellow firefighters had looked to for leadership and support.
But now he had become withdrawn, forgetful, and irritable. He no longer seemed
to enjoy his favorite foods or activities. He also slept poorly and often
awakened as early as 4 a.m., when he would go to the kitchen and make a racket
until Betty finally got up to see what he was doing.
Both Julia and Al sought help from their doctors, and each was
diagnosed with depression, a disorder that's as common in the elderly as it is
in younger people. And both, fortunately, were successfully treated. Without
treatment, both would they have risked getting worse physically as well as
becoming increasingly despondent and even suicidal.
Elderly Harder to Diagnose
People who are clinically depressed experience at least two
weeks during which their mood is depressed for most of the day and a decreased
interest in almost all activities. Other possible symptoms include:
Weight gain or weight loss
Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
In cases of serious depression, thoughts of death or even of
death by suicide are common.
The trouble is, depression can be hard to diagnose in older
people. That's because they're likely to have other medical conditions that can
mimic some of depression's symptoms. Julia's arthritis limited her ability to
get around, and this helped hide the fact that she felt less and less energetic
because she was depressed. And Al's stomach condition had led him to turn down
his favorite foods long before depression took away his appetite.
It is not a normal part of aging to have any of the
symptoms of depression. They deserve medical attention -- whether they are
caused by depression or by something else. Ignoring the symptoms can lead to an
increase in the severity of the depression or other medical illness. And severe
untreated depression can even end in suicide.
Suicidal thoughts or actions are a medical emergency that
requires immediate evaluation by a healthcare professional.