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Depression in Older Adults

Everyone experiences feelings of sadness on occasion. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, major depressive disorder is more prevalent in elderly adults than other age groups and often difficult to diagnose and treat. Depression is a common health problem that can lead to serious consequences if neglected. Learning to recognize the early warning signs of depression in older adults is essential for effective treatment and recovery.

In seniors, depression can be difficult to identify. Many caregivers and family members mistake symptoms of late life depression for normal signs of aging. Depression symptoms include feelings of sadness or loss of interest in one’s normal activities for a two week period or longer. Changes in sleep habits and appetite, irritability, lethargy, poor concentration and thoughts of death are other indications of major depressive disorder. Additional warning signs of depression in elderly adults include increased confusion and forgetfulness, poor grooming habits, substance abuse, isolation, suicidal thoughts, decreased appetite and failure to perform daily activities.

The exact causes of major depression are unknown. Depressive episodes are often triggered by loneliness and isolation caused by loss of a spouse or limited contact with family members and children. Medical problems like heart disease, cancer, hypothyroidism or chronic pain can also trigger depression. Even commonly prescribed medications can cause symptoms of depression in seniors.

Once an older adult is diagnosed with depression, treatment and recovery begins. Depression treatment can involve psychotherapy, antidepressant therapy, lifestyle and nutritional counseling, and a regimen of social and physical activities. Being surrounded by caring people and participating in recreational activities like cardiovascular exercise, tai chi, gardening and music therapy are useful in reducing depression symptoms. Many assisted living facilities and residential care homes offer elderly adults the
companionship, emotional support and activities necessary to recover from a major depressive episode. Assisted living and residential care homes provide seniors with assistance in medication management, nutritional counseling, and scheduled activities like outings, parties, cookouts and fitness classes.
In assisted living facilities, seniors receive the support and companionship they need to participate in recreational and daily activities. Depression is a common problem in adults over 65 years old. With proper treatment and support, recovery from depression is possible, and elderly adults can regain the ability to participate and enjoy life to the fullest.

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