VIRGINIA, June 25, 2014 — Of the 35 million Americans aged 65 years or older, at least 6.5 million suffer depression. The majority of those with symptoms of depression have experienced the disorder over their lifetime, but others begin their ordeal in later years of life.
Older folks have unique circumstances that may trigger depression. Some of the issues they endure including facing their own mortality, the loss of loved ones such as spouse and lifetime friends, dependency on others, disease or disability, loss of social ties and independence or chronic, life threatening illness.
Unfortunately, many seniors and their family members believe the symptoms of depression are a natural part of the aging process when in fact, they are not. Symptoms such as memory problems, confusion, social withdrawal, loss of appetite, weight loss.
Vague complaints of pain, sleep issues, irritability and awkward thinking can be part and parcel of senior depression.
Seniors often come from generations that perceive depression as a weakness of character, and this is not the case yet some seniors abhor the suggestion of treatment, deny feeling ‘blue’ and fear being stigmatized by admitting to mood issues.
Seniors are often reluctant to leave their comfort zones to receive therapy, but a growing number of therapists that recognize this will commit to acting ‘outside the therapeutic box’.
This method of attention is conducted by making assessments and providing treatment in the environment that pleases and does not threaten seniors and in most cases, the environment is their home.
Additionally, a small but growing number of therapists recognize that during a therapeutic setting where the client feels safe and able to open up works well but when a client returns to their natural environment, whatever the gain in therapy can be lost when they encounter forces beyond their influence.
To this point, providing assistance in the safety and comfort of the senior home environment may be the singular method of success as psychosocial treatment plays an essential role in the care of older clients.
Like diabetes or arthritis, depression as a chronic illness requires getting well and more importantly, staying well, and it is not unusual for seniors to have prolonged or chronic depression which is defined by the American Psychological Association as major depressive disorder, clinical depression and unipolar depression.
This type of depression disorder is assigned to depression that lasts two years and longer which is not unusual for seniors.
Major depression is the reason cited for 6.5 percent of those who commit suicide and 60 percent of suicides have endured depression at some point in their lives.
Regardless of the extent of depression, talk therapy or talk therapy along with one of the many newer medications or talk therapy along with newer clinical therapies such as Transracial Magnetic Stimulation, recently approved by the FDA, has been shown to be effective for depression that does not respond to first-line therapies and medications.
Family physicians or PCP’s are often too quick to prescribe medications for depression based on a 15 minute office visit.
The wholesale prescribing of psychotropic meds by PCP’s may do more harm because they are not mental/emotional health care providers and in most cases, do not have follow-up training beyond the few ‘psych rounds’ they require.
As with any disorder, syndrome or disease, depression escalates in severity and needs to be addressed as soon as symptoms appear.
Paul Mountjoy is a Virginia based psychotherapist