Depression in Older Adults

Depression can be experienced as a result of many different factors and during different age groups.  Older adults are inclined to experience depression as a result of losses of a partner or loved one, divorce, physical illness, change of financial condition, and so on.

Professionals will test to discover the cause of the depression.  If it is physical, it could be caused by sleep apnea or other sleep disorders, neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s or Huntington’s disease, stroke, vitamin B1 deficiency, thyroid conditions, autoimmune conditions, infections or cancer and requires a medical doctor’s care.  Depression may also be caused by sudden changes due to divorce, loss of a job, discovering that one has Alzheimer’s disease, major illness that limits mobility and other social changes that may upset a person’s sense of self, autonomy and security.  A therapist or psychiatrist may be called to assist the person in managing their depression.  Successful aging requires that older adults be able to adapt to changing conditions.

A person with dementia may also exhibit depression.  Depression can make a person seem demented.  An older adult with dementia will lose both short and long term memory.  A depressed person will only exhibit short term memory loss.  Distractibility or lack of concentration is common in persons with depression.  Sleep disturbance is seen in both depressed persons and those with dementia.  Another change common to both is appetite changes except a depressed person may be aware of the changes and a person with dementia will not have noticed.  In addition, both depressed individuals and persons with dementia may experience grooming changes.  A depressed person may not be motivated to groom themselves; a person with dementia will not care and may forget how to groom themselves.

If you have observed someone needing to be helped, refer them to their doctor first or call Behavioral Health Response 314-469-6644 or 1-800-811-4760, a mental health hotline available 24/7 with counselors available to speak with you.  You may also call the Mental Health Association of Greater St. Louis at 314-773-1399 if you need information or referrals.

When you notice depression in a loved one, first eliminate any physical conditions that could be the underlying cause.  Then seek assistance as depression can cause physical illness over time and the person will have a low quality of life.  Depression needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.  Exercise, good nutrition and positive thinking can go a long way toward encouraging good mental health.  However, if medications are prescribed and they are not working, have your doctor try something else and get counselling.  Sometimes having someone listen intently brings clarity to the person talking about their challenges.

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