June 6, 2011

Is Depression a Normal Part of Aging?

Many people experience feeling blue at different times throughout their lives. Emotional experiences of sadness, grief, responses to loss are normal feelings.  A sad or grieving person can continue to carry on with regular activities, however  when the sadness persist and interferes with everyday life,  it may be sign of depression.
The incidence of clinical depression in the geriatric population is fairly common. The National Institute of Health Statistics indicate about 2 million of the 35 million Americans 65 and older experience depression.
It often difficult to recognize clinical depression in the elderly.  It is not uncommon for depression to be under diagnosed because many older adults do not report depressive symptoms.  They worry that they may be viewed as being “crazy” due to the stigma that was attached to psychiatric diagnoses in the past. Many elderly have been conditioned to think that they should suppress their feelings and continue with life cloaking their depression and carrying on with daily routines.
There are many Health Care Professionals who believe that depression is just part of the aging process.  It is often the job of the Geriatric Care Manager or Clinical Social Worker to advocate for the elder and help these professionals recognize these symptoms can be treated.
It is very important for all to recognize that depression is not a normal part of aging and it is treatable. Anti-depressant medications or psychotherapy or a combination of the two, can be effective treatments for late life depression.
The first step in helping an elderly person who may be depressed is to recognize some signs and symptoms of depression.  The most common symptoms of late-life depression include:
•   persistent sadness (lasting two weeks or more)
•   feeling slowed down
•   excessive worries about finances and health problems
•   frequent tearfulness
•   weight changes
•   pacing and fidgeting
•   difficulty sleeping
•   difficulty concentrating
•   physical symptoms such as pain or gastrointestinal problems.
The question of a depression diagnosis should be considered if  the above symptoms persist and interfere with everyday psychosocial functioning.  It is recommended that a thorough medical evaluation takes place to rule out anything medical that is going on to create these symptoms.  Something as simple as a urinary tract infection can mimic depressive symptoms.
The good news and something we want to spread the word about is Depression is treatable in most cases.  We need  to continue to encourage anyone who presents with depressive symptoms to receive treatment so that their quality of life can be the best it can be.  For more information, contact Janice Glick, Aviv Centers for Living Director of Social Work Services at 781-598-5310 x. 1561 or jgick@avivliving.org.