Dealing with Depression in Old Age

In 2000, a geriatric psychiatrist, Dr. Jürgen Unützer, conducted a study that showed that a scant 12-25% of seniors believed to have depression were being diagnosed properly and being treated. Seniors who have depression tend to be overlooked for a number of reasons. One reason is that people think that’s part of old age and don’t think anything of a senior who seems down in the dumps. Another reason is that seniors tend to avoid seeing a doctor for depression because of the stigma they think it carries.

For these reasons and others, the United States Preventive Services Task Force issued a recommendation urging screening for depression among older people. Signs of depression include: lack of interest in hobbies that used to seem interesting; lack of attention to personal hygiene, such as showering or changing clothes; and isolation from friends and family. Those are just a few of the symptoms. Even something like body aches can be related to depression.

If you think someone you know is suffering from depression, there are a few things you can do and a few things you shouldn’t do. For starters, don’t tell them to “snap out of it”. That “advice” can be extremely upsetting to someone who is already in the doldrums. Avoid blaming them for their feelings or telling them that they should not feel that way. What you can do to help them is to let them know that you are always available to talk. Invite them out for a walk or a movie. Bring them cookies. Let them know you are there for them.

Depression is a problem for older people, just as it is a problem for those who are younger. Realizing that it exists and watching for signs can be good ways to help prevent depression from taking hold in someone’s life.