Elderly Depression Often Unnoticed
Tough to Diagnose
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
- 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.