National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
There is actually a problem brought about by winter’s shorter days called Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is a form of depression. Fortunately there are ways to cope with the lack of sunlight, and once spring arrives many people start feeling better.
But when spring doesn’t make you feel any better, it may be time to recognize that you (or a loved one) are not facing a seasonal problem, but something that needs more aggressive attention.
The Chronic Illness Link
The American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry (AAGP) estimates that 15 out of every 100 Americans age 65+ suffer from depression. One of the main reasons, many experts now believe, is due to the physical and mental stresses of coping with chronic illness.
It’s been well documented that depression regularly co-exists in patients with chronic medical conditions. It’s estimated that depression affects at least 25% of older adults with cancer; diabetes; Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy, and heart patients.
Other Reasons for Senior Depression
Other physical changes can lead to depression. Vision and hearing loss; reduced muscle strength, and reduced ability to walk, can all lead to a decreased sense of independence and thus to depression.
Seniors are often facing major transitions, the kind that can influence anyone’s mood: retirement, selling the family home for something smaller; moving into a nursing home, and of course the death of close family members and friends.
Obstacles to Proper Treatment
There are a host of obstacles that can keep depression from being properly treated or even just recognized in seniors. If you or someone you love is already taking one (or more) medications for illness, it can be difficult (but it’s not impossible) to find an antidepressant that won’t cause interactive problems.
Some of the excuses that are often used by a depressed person may actually seem reasonable in an older American: “It’s too exhausting” or “ I don’t feel up to it.” Such statements are often a major red flag that an older adult is withdrawing from life, a major sign of depression. Yet far too often such statements — when made by seniors — are met with answers like, “Okay. Why don’t you stay home and rest?” or “Sure. Take it easy. You’ve earned it.”
Treatment is Critical
Unfortunately, even when an outside party senses that something’s wrong they’re more likely to urge their loved one to “snap out of it” rather than suggest medical intervention. Yet treatment is critical. Depression is a serious medical illness and must be treated as such. Left untreated, depression in seniors often leads to suicide; Americans over 65 account for more than 25 percent of the nation’s suicide rate.
If an older loved one is dismissing the idea that they are depressed, you might want to consider seeking help from a third-party, like their doctor or a pastor of some kind. Are they in a retirement community or assisted living? Find out if there’s a social worker or counselor and raise your concerns. Seek help immediately if you sense in any way that your loved one might be a danger to him- or herself. Don’t ignore your instincts.
Another option for help are experts in the field of geriatric psychiatry, doctors designed to handle mental health issues in seniors. For that, contact AAGP in Maryland at (301) 654-7850.
The good news is that when depression is recognized in seniors and properly treated, more than 80 percent recover and return to their normal lives.