The holidays are upon us and so is the relentless cheer we associate with them but for many people the holidays aren’t happy no matter what everyone claims. Depression is a major problem for older adults. Some older adults will begin to experience it for the first time in their older age and they are often ill prepared to combat it. Younger people might assume that depression is a normal reaction to the chronic illness, loss of loved ones and the threat to independence associated with aging but depression isn’t a normal part of aging. Nor can doctors predict who will become depressed. Some people experience their first bouts of depression after age 60.
Depression in older adults can look much different than it does in younger adults. Older adults may not be able to experience pleasure, they may lose weight, experience social withdrawal, experience delusions, irritability and loneliness more prominently than their younger counterparts. Depression can aggravate cognitive issues and create a rapid, functional decline. Depressed seniors are also more likely to fall.
According to a Washington Post article, up to 40 percent of people experiencing their first bout of depression in later life suffer from an inability to plan and follow through on tasks. The consequences of executive dysfunction can include ending up in a nursing home when the individual becomes unable to manage day-to-day life, finances, medical needs and self-care. They are also at an elevated risk for suicide. (In 2012, the highest suicide rate (19.88) was among people 45 to 59 years old. The second highest rate (17) occurred in those 75 years and older according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.)
For many older adults, having depression has a stigma to it. For those born during the depression or during the war, people were expected to pick themselves up and dust themselves off. The result is that depressed people may see their problem as a weakness or a failure to be able to care for themselves.
If you or someone you love may be experiencing depression, treatment is available. The first stop is to see a doctor. This is one instance in which seeing a geriatric physician or someone very familiar with geriatrics is a must. Antidepressants pose age-related risks because the side effects can be more harmful, treatment may take longer to take effect and drug interactions with other medications for other chronic issues may create even more issues. However you choose to treat depression, don’t ignore it. Depression can make bad problems worse and since it’s treatable there’s no sense in keeping it around.