Depression & Aging
By Linda Medrais
On this second day of Mental Illness Awareness Week, let us put a spotlight on another important mental issue: depression and aging.
Depression is among the more common and troublesome emotional problems facing our seniors today, preventing them from fully enjoying their lives and affecting many aspects of their physical health. As many as 20% of seniors living in our communities suffer some form of mental health. That number increases dramatically to 80-90% for those living in extended care.
Despite the fact that depression exacts an enormous toll in human suffering and can even lead to suicide, it has been estimated that seniors over the age of 65 are among the most under-treated populations for mental health issues (MHS, 2004). This is in part due to the isolation that many of our elderly experience, the stigma of having a mental health issue still felt by many, the belief that feeing down and blue is just a “normal” part of the aging process, and sometimes misdiagnosis.
While loss is a universal human experience and can occur at any stage of life, the number of losses individuals experience does increase with age. Under some circumstances this can put stress on one’s ability to cope. Loss of a spouse, changes in living arrangements and the loss of what is familiar, loss of independence, of social roles and community, and loss of significance are all common to the elderly. While individuals who have suffered a recent loss are at increased risk for developing depression, seniors living alone or those who are caring for a spouse with dementia are particularly vulnerable.
Symptoms of depression can include sadness, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, fixation on death with thoughts of and/or attempts at suicide, trouble concentrating, loss of interest in hobbies or other enjoyable activities, and social withdrawal and isolation. Seniors living with depression can experience tiredness, changes in weight and appetite, sleep disturbances, and physical aches and pains. Agitation, frustration and low mood can also be experienced, leading to increased isolation from loved ones.
The key to treating depression is early recognition and diagnosis. Between 60-80% of depressed individuals can be treated successfully with psychotherapy and/or antidepressant medication. It’s important to realize that older individuals rarely seek treatment on their own. However, it’s important to know that seniors are often willing to listen to a family member who will lovingly and compassionately describe what they’re seeing, and who will attend any professional appointments with them. Treatment makes a difference and can improve the quality of life for those we love.
If you know of someone who you believe could benefit from some professional help related to symptoms of depression, contact us at the Burnaby Counselling group at 604-430-1303. We will be happy to provide you with information regarding how our professional services may be able to assist.
Linda Medaris, Registered Marriage and Family Therapist and Intern Supervisor