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Mental Health in the Family: Senior Adults

Our series of blog posts in November will focus on mental health in the family. Mental illness can affect us all and in different ways. Children will experience depression different than a senior adult and symptoms can vary even between a man and woman. As we age, we face significant life changes that can put anyone at a greater risk for depression. Older adults and the elderly often deal with an increase in health problems, loneliness and isolation, a reduced sense of purpose, and recent bereavements.

While all life stages present particular struggles, they also present opportunities and happiness. Depression is never a normal part of aging and our older years can be a wonderful time of reflection and relaxation.

Depression affects 15 out of every 100 adults over age 65 in the United States.  Although adults over the age of 65 compose about 12.4% of the US population, they account for 16% of all suicides.

Overcoming depression can be especially difficult for seniors. Older adults are more likely to have a looser support structure, causing them to be more isolated than the general population. This makes it more difficult to recognize the warning signs of depression.

Many older adults suffering from depression may deny feeling sad. Despite the absence of sadness, depression can still be at play. Symptoms to look for include:

  • Unexplained or aggravated aches and pains
  • Feelings of hopelessness or helplessness
  • Anxiety and worries
  • Memory problems
  • Lack of motivation and energy
  • Slowed movement and speech
  • Irritability
  • Loss of interest in socializing and hobbies
  • Neglecting personal care (skipping meals, forgetting meds, neglecting personal hygiene)

Older adult attitudes toward depression often inhibit help seeking behavior. Despite the fact that depression affects 15 out of every 100 Americans aged 65 years or older, only about 10% actively receive treatment. More than 50% of older adults believe depression is a “normal” part of aging which can be a major hurdle when working with an older population.

Depression can also co-occur with other serious medical illnesses such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and Parkinson’s disease. Depression can make these conditions worse, and vice versa. Sometimes, medications taken for these illnesses may cause side effects that contribute to depression.

Implementing activities promoting positive well being in the aging population can go a long way in depression awareness and suicide prevention. If you are worried about an older adult in your life, it is important to let them know you care. Encourage the person to seek treatment and offer to accompany them to the doctor appointment. Scheduling social activities and preparing healthy meals can also make a positive impact.

Senior depression is treatable and should never be accepted as normal.