Many treatment options exist for elderly depression.
Your dad, 66 years old and a retired widower, lives alone. Lately, he has
bailed out of his weekly card games and no longer sees his friends.
Could It Be Depression?
Possibly. Given enough stress, anyone will develop depression, says George
Grossberg, M.D., the Samual Fordyce Professor and Director of the Division of
Geriatric Psychiatry at St. Louis School of Medicine. So perhaps it's no
surprise that depression appears to affect between 13 and 27% of people 65 and
older, and an even higher percentage of those confined to hospitals and nursing
Underlying the Depression
"It's a major challenge to adapt to this final stage of life," says
Grossberg. "For many there is no family around, there are financial
worries, there is the loss of loved ones and friends. It's also a time of life
when people reminisce and review their lives. Normally this is healthy, but
some people are not able to accept their life as they lived it and their
"If you think about it," adds Mary Pipher, Ph.D., a Lincoln, Neb.,
psychotherapist and author of Another Country: The Emotional Terrain of Our
Elders (Riverhead Books, 1999), "they're really trauma victims. Many
have lost their mates, friends, health, habits, and homes."
Researching her book led Pipher to conclude that many of the
"old-old," the term she uses for those elderly people who have begun to
lose their health, are depressed because of changes in our society. People are
living longer, but often they live far away from their families. Grandma no
longer has a room in the family home or a role to play tending the baby or
preparing family meals. Instead, she lives by herself, isolated, lonely, and
with little opportunity to feel useful or important in a youth-oriented
"We're not nearly empathic enough toward our old-old,'' Pipher says.
"We can understand somewhat our 14-year-olds because we can remember what
it was like to be 14. But we've never been 85," she says, and "just
contemplating what old age may be like makes us anxious."
The culture's emphasis on independence makes old age a particularly
undignified experience. Our elderly may no longer be able to walk or drive,
which makes them feel burdensome.
"What we must do individually and as a culture is figure out ways of
saying, 'It's an honor for us to care for you,''' Pipher says.