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Depression Health Center

Elderly Depression Often Unnoticed

Tough to Diagnose
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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
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Difficulty concentrating

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.

Treatment With Antidepressants

Both Julia and Al went to their primary care physicians for treatment. Both got complete physical exams and laboratory workups.

Julia chose to try antidepressant medication and asked her doctor to refer her for psychotherapy, as these had both worked well for her when she had become depressed in the past -- after the death of her sister 30 years ago and then again after she retired from teaching third grade. The doctor was also able to improve the treatment of Julia's arthritis, and with her niece's help she began to increase her social and physical activity.

Al's doctor referred him to a psychiatrist. Like Julia, he decided to try antidepressant medication. He also joined a support group for retired men run by his senior center, which he enjoyed a lot.

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