Depression is a mood disorder that can affect how you feel, think, and handle daily activities such as eating, sleeping, and connecting with others. While depression in seniors is common, it’s not a normal part of aging. However, the risk of depression in seniors increases when other chronic health conditions are present, such as cancer and heart disease. It can also be a byproduct of isolation, which becomes more common among older adults. According to the National Institute on Aging, 80% of seniors have at least one chronic health condition, and nearly 50% have two or more, which dramatically increases the risk of depression. While feeling occasional sadness is a normal part of life, long-lasting depression is not. Depression requires medical treatment. Other conditions can mimic depression, so it’s important to be able to spot the symptoms and signs of depression to help you know when it’s time for medical intervention.
Signs and Symptoms of Depression in Older Adults
Causes of Depression in Older Adults
While there is no single cause of depression in seniors, there are biological, social, and psychological factors that can contribute to depression. Complications and significant life changes associated with aging can also increase the risk of depression in older adults. Here are some of the most common causes of depression:
Health problems. Chronic conditions are common among older adults and can contribute to feelings of depression. Depression is often linked to illness, chronic or severe pain, and cognitive decline.
Loneliness and isolation. Living alone, losing a spouse or friends, and decreased mobility due to aging can be hard to cope with and often lead to feelings of depression.
Loss of purpose. Transitioning from work to retirement can often cause loss of identity, status, financial security, and lead to depression.
Genetic factors. Those with a family history of depression are more likely to develop it than those who do not have a history of the illness.
Personal history. Older adults who have experienced depression in their younger years are more at risk for developing depression later in life.
Brain chemistry and anatomy. People with depression have different brain chemistry than those without the illness. In fact, according to Harvard Health, the part of the brain called the hippocampus — which plays a role in learning, emotions, and memory — is smaller in some depressed people.
Stress. Life doesn’t always go the way we’ve imagined. Difficult relationships, fears, prolonged substance abuse, and traumatic life events can all trigger depression in seniors.
Depression and Other Illnesses
According to the National Institute on Aging, depression — especially in older adults — often occurs with other serious medical conditions such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and Parkinson’s disease. It’s not uncommon for these conditions to be made worse by depression. Depression can also occur when one is diagnosed with serious or terminal health conditions. Medication used to treat these illnesses can also cause side effects that contribute to depression and anxiety. However, doctors who are well versed in treating these illnesses will help find the best treatment and solutions.
How to Help a Parent with Depression
If you suspect your loved one is suffering from depression, it can be difficult to know how to approach the topic. Whether you notice your parent disengaging from friends and family, avoiding activities they once enjoyed or displaying any of the warning signs listed above — talking with your loved one about their behavior can lead them to receive the treatment they need. As you prepare to talk with your loved one, you might consider using these tips to frame your discussion:
Treatment Options for Depression
Many older adults find improvement in their depression symptoms when treated with antidepressant medications, psychotherapy, and through making small lifestyle changes. Finding the right treatment can take time, so don’t get discouraged.
Medications: Some medical providers might prescribe selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), selective serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), and tricyclic antidepressants.
Lifestyle changes: Increasing physical activities, creating time for a new hobby, having regular visits with friends and family, getting enough sleep, and prioritizing a well-balanced diet can all help reduce feelings of depression. These adjustments in daily life are linked to decreasing depression in seniors.
Therapy: In addition to, or instead of, prescribing medication, many health care providers might suggest some form of therapy as part of a treatment plan. Talk therapy with a trained therapist can help those struggling with depression talk through their feelings in a safe and confidential environment. Art therapy has also shown to be very effective in treating depression. Painting, pottery, and sculpting can be used to promote self-expression and facilitate conversations about feelings and emotions. Pet therapy can also be extremely helpful for older adults working through depression. In fact, research has shown that just a few minutes spent with pets can boost mood and even decrease blood pressure.
Finding Depression Support at Maplewood Senior Living
Our trained medical staff and caregivers are dedicated to providing high-quality support for every resident living in our Maplewood Senior Living communities. We know how difficult depression can be for both individuals and their families. From support groups to exercise classes and high-quality meal offerings, each of our communities is dedicated to offering extra care to those suffering from depression. To learn more about our offerings or to schedule a tour, please contact us.
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