Geriatric depression, also known as late-age depression, is not a normal aging phenomenon but a mental health disease that needs to be managed just like other illnesses. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 7 million US elders are affected by depression.
Here, we’ll discuss the symptoms of geriatric depression and different ways to cope with it.
How does it present in old age?
Depression typically presents with persistent low or sad mood that lasts for more than a week. However, we may also experience the following symptoms,
- Feelings of guilt and hopelessness
- Generalized fatigue and loss of energy
- Difficulty in concentration and decision-making.
- Sleeping difficulties, e.g., insomnia (decreased sleep) or hypersomnolence (oversleeping).
- Significant weight loss or weight gain
- Irritability and restlessness
- Loss of interest in pleasure activities
- Physical manifestations of depression such as pain, headaches, or cramps.
If it becomes severe, we may also experience suicidal thoughts or do suicidal attempts.
Why is it common in old age?
We are more prone to depression in old age for certain reasons such as the following.
- Chronic Medical Conditions of old age
About 80% of elders suffer from at least one chronic medical condition such as hypertension, diabetes, cardiac issues, etc. The presence of chronic health concerns can substantially increase the likelihood of depression among the elderly.
- Difficulty in accepting the transition to old age
We may experience difficulty and dissatisfaction in transition to old age. It may occur due to unachieved goals, unfinished tasks, or unattained desires.
Another contributing factor is the misdiagnosis of depression in the elderly because late-age depression is often marked as a natural reaction to life changes.
How can we cope with depression in old age?
Certain measures can help manage geriatric depression, such as the following,
- Psychotherapy and Counseling can help find the root cause of late-age depression and alleviate the mild-to-moderate symptoms.
- Cognitive Behavior Therapy provides an opportunity to change negative behaviors with positive ones.
- Supportive “Talk therapy” with close ones such as family, friends, and colleagues helps share inner thoughts and ideas.
- Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is a safe and effective method to treat severe depression when the symptoms are not improving with mental health therapies.
- Antidepressants that can be used along with psychotherapy can help in severe symptoms. However, they should be used on the physician’s advice.
Prevention from geriatric depression:
We can take the following measures to prevent late-age depression to some extent (although it is not possible to prevent it completely).
- Early diagnosis of depression can be helpful in early treatment and prevention of recurrence. For this purpose, we can use screening sources such as the “Depression test” offered by Mental Health America.
- Regular physical activity and a balanced diet can keep us physically and mentally healthy in old age.
- Maintain sleep hygiene as sleeplessness can precipitate depression in the elderly. It is recommended to sleep at least 7-9 hours daily.
- Positive social engagements with family and friends can decrease the feelings of loneliness and prevent self-isolation.
Geriatric depression commonly presents with low mood, difficulties in sleep and concentration, loss of appetite, and other symptoms. It is quite prevalent in the US old age population. However, it can be managed with psychotherapy, counseling, ECT, and antidepressants. Moreover, we can also use an online “Depression test” for the early diagnosis of this disease. For prevention, we should take a balanced diet, be physically and socially active, and maintain sleep hygiene.