HOW DOES DEPRESSION AFFECT SENIORS?


Clinical depression in the elderly is common, though not normal. Late-life depression affects about 6 million Americans ages 65 and older. But only 10% receive treatment for depression. The likely reason is that the elderly often display symptoms of depression differently. Depression in the elderly is also frequently confused with the effects of multiple illnesses and the medicines used to treat them.

Depression impacts older people differently. In the elderly, depression often occurs with other medical illnesses and disabilities and lasts longer.

Depression is associated with an increased risk of cardiac diseases and an increased risk of death from illness. At the same time, depression reduces an elderly person's ability to adjust to a rehabilitative experience. Studies of nursing home patients with physical illnesses have shown that the presence of depression substantially increases the likelihood of death from those illnesses. Depression also has been associated with increased risk of death following a heart attack. For that reason, it is important to make sure that an elderly person is evaluated and treated properly, even if the depression is mild.

Depression also increases the risk of suicide, especially in elderly white men. The suicide rate in people ages 80 to 84 is more than twice that of the general population. The National Institute of Mental Health considers depression in people age 65 and older to be a major public health problem.

In addition, advancing age is often accompanied by loss of social support systems due to the death of a spouse or siblings, retirement, or relocation of residence. Because of changes in an elderly person's circumstances and the fact that elderly people are expected to slow down, doctors and family may miss the signs of depression. As a result, effective treatment often gets delayed, forcing many elderly people to struggle unnecessarily with depression.