How Does Depression In the Elderly Differ From Depression in Younger Adults?
Depression impacts older people differently than younger people. In the elderly, depression often occurs with other medical illnesses and disabilities and lasts longer.
Depression in the elderly often increases their risk of cardiac diseases. Depression is associated with an increased risk of cardiac diseases and an increased risk of death from illness. At the same time, depression reduces an elderly person's ability to rehabilitate. Studies of nursing home patients with physical illnesses have shown that the presence of depression substantially increases the likelihood of death from those illnesses. Depression also has been associated with increased risk of death following a heart attack. For that reason, it is important to make sure that an elderly person you are concerned about is evaluated and treated, even if the depression is mild.
Using a series of standard questions, a primary care doctor can provide an effective screening for depression, allowing for better diagnosis and treatment. Doctors are encouraged to routinely screen for depression. This can happen during a visit for a chronic illness or at a wellness visit.
Depression also increases the risk of suicide, especially in elderly white men. The suicide rate in people ages 80 to 84 is more than twice that of the general population. The National Institute of Mental Health considers depression in people age 65 and older to be a major public health problem.
In addition, advancing age is often accompanied by loss of social support systems due to the death of a spouse or siblings, retirement, or relocation of residence. Because of changes in an elderly person's circumstances and the fact that elderly people are expected to slow down, doctors and family may miss the signs of depression. As a result, effective treatment often gets delayed, forcing many elderly people to struggle unnecessarily with depression.