We all know that the holidays can be a depressing time for people, especially older adults who may be facing them alone. But even though the holidays are over, it’s still important to pay attention to the mental health of seniors in our lives. Depression represents a significant health concern for older adults.
Impact of Depression
Depression is a state of prolonged sadness, and it affects a significant number of older adults. However, the condition often goes undiagnosed. Doctors may dismiss depression as grieving, or just assume that the senior is a little down. Meanwhile the symptoms of depression may also look like another health condition, making it more difficult to detect.
Left untreated, depression can have a serious impact on a senior’s health. In addition to increasing the risk of suicide, depression may also impede the body’s healing from other physical conditions. It’s critical to recognize the signs of depression so it can be properly addressed.
Signs of Depression
If you believe that you or someone you love may be suffering from depression, contact a qualified health care provider right away. Your primary care physician may make the diagnosis, but will probably refer you to a specialist for follow-up evaluation and treatment. Your doctor will ask about these signs and symptoms of depression:
- Prolonged sadness or sense of being “blue”
- Inability to enjoy daily activities or hobbies
- Withdrawal from social situations and interactions
- Changes in appetite or sleep patterns
- Unusual weight loss or gain
- Increased use of alcohol or drugs
- Chronic pain
- Memory problems
- Failure to pay attention to personal hygiene and care
- Delayed or slowed movement
Experts note that older adults may not report sadness when they are depressed. They may concentrate more on physical symptoms, such as headaches or arthritis pain. They may also exhibit signs of anxiety, which include hand wringing, pacing, and obsessing over money or health. If you’re concerned about a senior in your life, look for these signs along with the others.
Depression is a treatable condition. Doctors often recommend psychotherapy (visiting a psychologist) and/or medication for depression. Many patients participate in both therapies at first, and may taper the treatment accordingly once the condition is managed.
Your primary care physician may be able to recommend a specialist. Ask for someone who has specific experience helping older adults, since the symptoms and effects of depression are often unique for people in this age group.
If you have questions about depression or mental health, please contact us at Lawnwood Regional Medical Center and Heart Institute. Learn more about our behavioral health program online or call Consult-a-Nurse® at 1-800-382-3522 for answers to your questions and free referrals to specialists in the Fort Pierce and Treasure Coast area.