Crotchety old men are more than a cliché according to a study out of Oregon State University. Researchers found that there’s some basis to the generalization. The study looked at a group of 1,300 men between the ages of 53 to 85 beginning in the 1960s. What they found was that as people age their happiness quotient remains stable for more than three-quarters of the population, meaning if you are generally happy, you continue to be happy and that as people age, they learn to handle disappointments and hassles better. But around 65 to 70 years old, there is a shift in how people handle disappointments. There’s a lower ability to recover from a new set of life’s disappointments and sorrows that include physical decline, loss of spouse or friends and cognitive problems. By age 70 or so, how you handle these new hassles may be more dependent on resources or your situation in life.
Scientists hope to eventually be able to predict who will be happy later in life and who will not so that they can begin interventions. They also hope to continue research by looking at the mental health outlook of women, minorities and individuals with wider socioeconomic and health backgrounds.
While the study didn’t specifically mention depression, we know that clinical depression in the elderly is common, affecting anywhere from 8 percent to 16 percent of community-dwelling older adults and more than twice that amount in a long term care setting, yet only 10 percent of those with late-life depression are actually treated. Sometimes it is missed because the symptoms the elderly exhibit are often confused with medications or illnesses.
Advancing age often means the loss of social support systems through death, retirement or relocation. Those changes in circumstances can cause the elderly to experience depression for a longer period than their younger counterparts, thereby putting them at greater risk for cardiac diseases and death from illnesses as well as suicide.
According to a study in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, “depression among older adults is particularly challenging to identify and manage.” One of the barriers to recognizing depression in older adults includes a lack of training in geriatric care at the provider level. The elderly present unique challenges including polypharmacy (the use of multiple drugs for multiple illnesses), metabolic changes, and cognitive and functional decline. The benefit of choosing a geriatric physician as your primary care physician as you age is that geriatric physicians routinely screen for depression in their clients.