The process of aging can be both rewarding and challenging. This time period in life can be spent enjoying retirement, vacations, hobbies, or more time with family. While many look forward to their golden years, older adults may also be faced with significant health concerns, struggles with financial stability, or behavioral health challenges.
Part of growing older is going through changes and experiences shared by others at the same stage in life. Changes like retirement can open doors to new pursuits, but it can also be quite stressful. Some find it difficult to make the adjustments and struggle with feelings of purposelessness or loneliness.
Sometimes, feelings of loneliness and despair can lead to a more serious concern, like depression. Many people assume depression is something to be expected when getting older. This couldn’t be further from the truth. As people get older, they go through difficult changes. It’s normal for an older person to experience sadness, grief, or periods of low energy, just like so many others. However, some will experience feelings that last significantly longer than temporary feelings of sadness. Click here to learn more about what this looks like.
Sometimes, depression is overlooked or even mistaken for dementia. With both depression and dementia, performing everyday tasks like cleaning, cooking, and even getting dressed can become incredibly challenging to manage.
It is critically important that seniors be given thorough diagnostic tests by appropriate medical professionals. Older persons can benefit from loved ones advocating on their behalf for the best possible treatment and care options when either dementia or depression are suspected. Also, maintaining physical health and staying mentally and socially active can have a mutually important benefit for the mind and the body.
Risk Factors for mental health problems among older adults
According to the World Health Organization, there may be multiple risk factors for mental health problems at any point in life. Older people may experience life stressors common to all people, but also stressors that are more common in later life, like a significant ongoing loss in capacities and a decline in functional ability. For example, older adults may experience reduced mobility, chronic pain, frailty or other health problems, for which they require some form of long-term care. In addition, older people are more likely to experience events such as bereavement, or a drop in socioeconomic status with retirement. All of these stressors can result in isolation, loneliness or psychological distress in older people, for which they may require long-term care.
Mental health has an impact on physical health and vice versa. For example, older adults with physical health conditions such as heart disease have higher rates of depression than those who are healthy. Additionally, untreated depression in an older person with heart disease can negatively affect its outcome.
Is it Elder Abuse?
Older adults are also vulnerable to elder abuse – including physical, verbal, psychological, financial and sexual abuse; abandonment; neglect; and serious losses of dignity and respect. Current evidence suggests that 1 in 6 older people experience elder abuse. Elder abuse can lead not only to physical injuries but also to serious, sometimes long-lasting psychological consequences, including depression and anxiety.
- Abuse may cause various injuries such as scratches, cuts, bruises, burns, broken bones, or bedsores. It can also result in confinement, rape or sexual misconduct, and verbal or psychological abuse.
- Neglect may cause starvation, dehydration, over- or under-medication, unsanitary living conditions, lack of personal hygiene. Neglected adults may also not have heat, running water, electricity, medical care.
- Exploitation may result in loss of property, money, or income. Exploitation means misusing the resources of an elderly or disabled person for personal or monetary benefit. This includes taking Social Security or SSI (Supplemental Security Income) checks, misusing a joint checking account, or taking property and other resources.
Is it Depression?
As you get older, you may go through a lot of changes — death of loved ones, retirement, stressful life events, or medical problems. It’s normal to feel uneasy, stressed, or sad about these changes. But after adjusting, many older adults feel well again. Depression is different. It is a medical condition that interferes with daily life and normal functioning. It is not a normal part of aging, a sign of weakness, or a character flaw. Many older adults with depression need treatment to feel better.
Learn more about anxiety and depression and how they are often “two sides of the same coin”.
Learn the signs and find treatment
Do you feel very tired, helpless, and hopeless? Have you lost interest in many of the activities and interests you previously enjoyed? Are you having trouble working, sleeping, eating, and functioning? Have you felt this way day after day? If you answered yes, you may be experiencing depression.
Depression may sometimes be undiagnosed or misdiagnosed in some older adults because sadness is not their main symptom. They may have other, less obvious symptoms of depression or they may not be willing to talk about their feelings. It is important to know the signs and seek help if you are concerned
How to get help
If you think that you or a loved one may have depression, it is important to seek treatment. A person with depression cannot simply “snap out of it”—it is a medical condition that affects your quality of life. Depression can also lead to suicide, particularly if left untreated, and you are more likely to develop a physical illness if you have depression. The good news is that, in most cases, depression is treatable in older adults. The right treatment may help improve your overall health and quality of life. With the right treatment, you may begin to see improvements as early as two weeks from the start of your therapy. Some symptoms may start to improve within a week or two, but it may be several weeks before you feel the full effect.
https://mentalhealthtx.org/populations/seniors/; NIMH.nih.gov, Older Adults and Depression; Texas Department of Family and Protective Services
We hope this information is helpful to you in the important work you do as a family caregiver.
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