Triggers of Depression in the Elderly

Apr 5, 2016

Triggers of Depression in the Elderly

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Depression is on the rise in the United States, and it is an illness that needs to be taken very seriously. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association, 14.8 million adults are diagnosed with depression each year in the United States. It hits every age group, race, and gender, although depression is more common in older adults.

Depression rates tend to be higher in the older population – for example, people in their 80’s have double the risk of suicide compared to the rest of the population, and males over the age of 80 have the highest risk out of anyone. Geriatric depression typically coincides with another illness or an age-related disability.

While much of depression can be linked to genetics, it tends to be more likely for seniors and the elderly population because this is a time in their lives where they are facing other physical and mental challenges as well.

4 Common Triggers of Geriatric Depression

1. Changes in Brain Chemistry

Changes in brain chemistry can cause people to feel all sorts of unusual emotions, depression being among the most common. A drop in chemicals such as serotonin, dopamine or norepinephrine typically leads to overwhelming feelings of sadness or despair.

2. Major Life Event

Seniors face life changes regularly, and sometimes these are negative or they see them in a negative light. These major events typically cause stress, and in turn, too much stress can also lead to depression. Examples of these may be a death of a family member or loved one, moving out of their own home into someone else’s or a nursing home, or the diagnosis of an illness or disease.

3. Isolation

All too often, seniors are left alone or left out, and this can really wear on a person’s emotions. It’s important for a senior’s loved ones to ensure they are including seniors in every aspect of their lives, especially now that they may not have their own house, career, or anything else that helps them feel like an important part of society. Actually, many people consider isolating a senior a form of abuse due to the negative impact it has on them.

4. Age-related Complications

Seniors typically face a slew of medical conditions in their older years, which may greatly affect their quality of life, causing them to become depressed. Here are a few examples of age-related complications that may cause geriatric depression in seniors:

  • Diagnosis of a chronic illness
  • Limited mobility
  • Loss of sight, resulting in a loss of license

Although, these are just a few examples. Any health complication related to age may cause a significant change in a senior’s happiness and wellbeing.

Treating Depression in the Elderly

Many believe that medication is the best way to treat depression in older adults, and many physicians will prescribe antidepressants. Antidepressants are taken for more mild forms of depression and can take days or even weeks to begin working. Some antidepressants come with unpleasant side effects, like nausea, headaches, feelings of suicide, restlessness, agitation, and nervousness. Antidepressants typically should not be mixed with other medications, so it may be difficult for seniors to take them without giving up another necessary medication.

Another treatment option is psychotherapy. This involves seeing a psychologist or other therapist, and teaches individual new habits and ways of thinking, in hopes of lessening the effects of depression. Another option is electroconvulsive therapy, but this is much less common and is typically only used in severe, debilitating cases of depression.

Even though those suffering with this condition may feel hopeless, there are treatment options for depression. Seniors suffering from depression do not need to live that way. Should you or a loved need assistance dealing with depression, talk to your doctor. If immediate help is needed, call 911.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline – 1-800-273-TALK

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Frequently Asked Questions

How can I tell if my loved one is depressed?

There are many varying symptoms of depression, most notably a prolonged sense of hopelessness, increased anxiety, and lack of energy to perform routine tasks. People suffering from depression may also have difficulty sleeping and similarly oversleeping, while still remaining fatigued. Depression can also lead to added stress and aches and pains, which appear without a clear physical cause. 

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My father has been dealing with depression for a while now, but it seems more severe lately; who can I call if he decides to harm himself?

It’s a tough subject for many, but if you suspect your loved one is at risk, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline available 24/7 at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255). You’ll be greeted by trained counselors who can direct you to the nearest crisis center and provide professional advice. If your father harms himself, be sure to call emergency medical services.

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