Depression in the elderly is not a normal part of aging. Mental illnesses need prevention or treatment no matter their age. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 20% of adults ages 60 and older face a mental or neurological disorder. If these illnesses are this prevalent, there should be ways to prevent them from happening to your aging loved ones. Before delving into that, it is important to understand what it means to have depression in an older adult’s life. 

Causes of Depression in the Elderly

There are four possible factors in developing depression during the later years of life. The factors are genetic predisposition, brain chemistry, personal history of having depression when they were younger, and emotional stress. Older people could face different life circumstances that can induce stress, such as:

  • Grief due to loss of pets, friends, or spouse
  • Suffering from financial, emotional, physical, verbal, or sexual abuse due to their vulnerabilities
  • Frustration due to physical disabilities such as vision problems or other physical problems that limit their movement
  • Chronic health problems such as heart problems and diabetes
  • Terminal illness

Also, the elderly can experience what is called “vascular depression.” As humans age, the body changes. Blood vessels can become constricted. As a result, the blood flow to the brain gets restricted, which results in symptoms of depression. Older adults can also develop another type of depression after having a stroke. 

Symptoms of Depression in Elderly People

Depression is commonly overlooked in primary care because of several challenges. More older adults with depression initially complain of somatic problems than just the depression symptoms listed on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Older adults usually tell their physicians about having the following:

  • heart palpitations
  • Restlessness,
  • Fatigue
  • Tremors
  • body aches
  • nausea or vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • shortness of breath
  • Fainting
  • heavy perspiration
  • facial flushing

This is also a challenge because the symptoms could be caused by diseases common among the elderly. We need to rule out these diseases will be needed before concluding with depression as the root of the problem. 

Younger people usually show symptoms of emotional turmoil, such as feelings of emptiness or extreme sadness. However, according to the National Institute on Aging, older adults do not usually exhibit sadness as the main symptom. Mood disturbance and cognitive problems in elderlies with depression typically look like the following:

  • Always looking tired
  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Speaking slowly
  • Confusion
  • Forgetfulness
  • Problem focusing
  • Being grumpy
  • Being irritable
  • Preoccupation with death

Symptoms of depression can sometimes look like symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. Moreover, depression and Alzheimer’s can both occur in one patient. Other illnesses that can occur with depression are cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

Although there are challenges in recognizing depression in the elderly, prevention still stands better than cure. The good news is that there are several proven ways of preventing this special population’s depression. 

Preventing Depression in Elderlies

The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) lists studies that prove different methods of prevention of depression to be effective for older adults. According to NCBI, we should discourage preventing depression in the elderly by giving them antidepressants and benzodiazepines, a type of tranquilizer. This is because they may experience side effects such as cognitive impairments. Most of them are also already taking other medications, which may give their bodies a harder time metabolizing the chemicals. Psychotherapy methods are better and preferred over pharmacological therapy. These methods are:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): This targets dysfunctional thoughts with the help of a professional. It is a form of therapy with the goal of restructuring negative thought patterns to change behavior.
  • Problem Solving Therapy (PST): This Is a method of therapy that aims to prevent and reduce depression by teaching older people to have rational appraisals of the problems they are facing. They also learn adaptive skills to live their lives to the fullest despite facing life’s challenges. This method may have a long-term effect in preventing depression, particularly in elderlies with medical comorbidities.

There are also innovative methods that prove to be effective in preventing depression, such as the following:

  • Stepped Care: Simply put, this means elderlies are being given intervention only as needed. First, they need advice to develop coping skills for life experiences during the later phase of life. After some time, they will be checked for progress. Only those who develop depression symptoms or whose mental health worsens will be given antidepressants and physicians’ treatment. 
  • Internet-based CBT: A study on internet-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy showed that face-to-face CBT and CBT over the internet are both effective and have no significant difference in preventing depression.
  • Sleep Problems Prevention: The quality of sleep affects the mood. As people age, their sleeping patterns change. The elderly can be taught about the circadian rhythm and sleep hygiene to prevent mood disruption and the stress that comes with a lack of quality sleep. They need coaching about the habits that can make them sleep better, like spending time on the bed only when they intend to sleep. 
  • Reminiscence: Reviewing the events in their life helps the elderly in decreasing their depressive symptoms, although not their anxiety symptoms. You should do it with a professional through sensory recall. 
  • Exercise: Moving around generally lifts one’s mood, but a study on its effect on the elderly with mild to moderate Major Depressive Disorder symptoms revealed that ten weeks of physical exercises such as resistance workouts could prevent depression from worsening. Even ten weeks of playing Wii Sports can help those with more depression symptoms.

Preventing depression and recognizing its symptoms in our elderly are valuable as they are part of our economy and, more importantly, part of our personal lives. They can and should be able to enjoy their life to the fullest. If you or someone you love is currently in this phase of their life, and you sense that there can be looming depression, help is available.

You may explore the geriatric services by Persona Neurobehavior Group in Pasadena. We aim to provide high-quality services across the life spans and through the cultural barriers of Californians suffering from trauma and brain injuries.

From the start, our commitment has been to offer culturally sensitive assessment and treatment services to pediatric, adult, and geriatric patients. You may know more about how we can help you by calling 800-314-7273 or requesting an appointment with one of our professionals.