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Seniors Mental Health & Depression
By S Wagg

A majority of men and women from the ages of 55-74 report they are satisfied with their lives and are currently in good health. While periods of depression may occur among seniors, it is important to remember that it is not a normal part of aging.

Depression is the most common mental health concern for older adults, affecting between 15 to 20 percent of older adults living in the community. It is not a normal part of aging. Symptoms such as decreased energy, poor sleep and preoccupation with health problems should be viewed as possible symptoms of a treatable illness and are NOT a result of the aging process.

Treatment for depression works, yet too many people remain undiagnosed and untreated because they don't recognize the signs and symptoms of depression.

Mental health specialists generally agree on the following definition of major depression:
 

  1. Symptoms persist for two weeks or longer
  2. People either have depressed moods or seem unable to enjoy life.
  3. Major depression should be considered if four of the following seven criteria are present:
  • A change in sleeping habits (more or less than usual)
  • A change in eating habits or weigh
  • Low energy or fatigue
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Feeling worthless or excessively guilty
  • Marked restlessness or slowed-down movements
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Depression can be defined as an imbalance of brain chemicals triggered by stress and life events, including biological, psychological and social factors.

Depression is NOT a character or personality flaw.

Many of the signs of depression may also indicate other problems or medical conditions - It is important to consult with a doctor to determine if your symptoms indicate depression or another medical condition.

Depression is often difficult to recognize among the senior population and it tends to be under diagnosed. Living with depression not only prevents older adult from fully enjoying their lives but it puts a strain upon their health, which can lead to other medical concerns. It is also very difficult for their caregivers and places a strain on their health as well.

What we do know is that there is no one cause for depression- every individual is unique in what may cause their depression, and what may trigger a depressive episode. Some possible causes and risk factors include genetics and family history, brain chemistry, personality, major illness, medications & alcohol, and life events. Risk factors for serious depression, particularly in older adults, may include loss and bereavement, lack of social support, isolation, living in poverty, being a caregiver, and abuse.

Having depression could also increase the risk of suicide among older adults, particularly in older males. According to the CDC, seniors account for more than 16% of all suicide deaths. Older adults who are over the age of 60 are far more likely to have a higher risk rate of suicide than younger people. If you feel that a friend or a loved one is suicidal, encourage them to seek out help either from a doctor, friend, crisis centre or, mental health agency.

Some things to keep in mind:

  • Keep a positive attitude. Remember that slowing down does not mean you have to come to a complete stop. Chances are you will still be able to do almost all the things you used to; you may just need to take a little more time and learn to pace yourself.
  • See your family doctor regularly. He/she can, then, deal with any changes or symptoms that require medical attention.
  • Be careful about your medications. As you get older, they may begin to interact differently with other drugs and to affect you differently than before. Make sure your doctor knows about all your medications, even those prescribed by another doctor.
  • Take responsibility for your own health. Do not hesitate to ask your doctor questions; some do not offer explanations unless asked.

Depression is a serious disorder that is treatable. In addition, dealing with an individual who is suffering from depression or at risk of suicide can be absolutely overwhelming for a caregiver. Although the caregiver is providing care and assistance to their loved ones they must also look after their own emotional, mental, and physical well-being.

While all of us may feel sad from time to time, sadness is not depression and it is important to remember that depression is not a normal part of aging.

About eldercaring.ca

Elder Caring Inc. http://www.eldercaring.ca is a group of experts with backgrounds in Social Work, Occupational Therapy, Physiotherapy and Gerontology. As working professionals in the field, all of our team members have many years of experience in working with the disabled, the elderly, and their families. The company has team members and representatives across Canada.

Webpage by Paul Susic MA Licensed Psychologist  Ph.D. Candidate   Clinical Director of Senior Care Psychological Consulting 

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