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Depression in The Elderly

By Estee Bienstock, R.N.

(Page 2 of 4)
 

Depression can be difficult to identify in the elderly and is often untreated because many people think that depression symptoms are a normal part of aging or a natural reaction to chronic illness, loss, or dramatic changes in social transition. Contrary to popular belief, depression is not part of the normal aging process. Many elderly people and their families do not recognize the symptoms of depression, are not aware that it is a medical illness, and are not familiar with treatments. It is natural to feel grief in the face of major life changes, such as leaving a home of many years or losing a loved one. Sadness and anguish, natural responses to major life changes, are normal, temporary reactions to the inevitable losses and hardships of life. However, depression is a medical disorder that continues for prolonged periods. Depression requires professional treatment to reduce the intensity and duration of the condition.

Deteriorating health, a sense of isolation and hopelessness, and difficulty adjusting to new life circumstances often combine to create untenable living situations for the elderly. Suicide in our elderly population far exceeds the general population as a whole.

Fortunately, the treatment prognosis for depression is good. Once diagnosed, 80 percent of clinically depressed individuals can be effectively treated. Medication is effective for a majority of people with depression and the elderly respond the same way. (Adams et al, 2007) Medications can be combined with supportive psychotherapy or cognitive behavioral therapy to improve effectiveness. Psychosocial treatment plays an essential role in the care of older patients who lack social support or lack coping skills to deal with their life situations.

Suggestions for activities for skill building with the elderly patient with depression include:

  • Utilize music as a distraction from worries and an assist for relaxation; try it as a sleep aid before bedtime

  • Organize interactions with pets as a relief from loneliness; ask friends or neighbors to visit with their pets regularly

  • As a focus for new growth, assist the patient with nurturing a seedling

  • Select readings as a stimulant for conversations about feelings

  • Encourage reminiscence and sharing of recollections for posterity to increase feelings of self-worth
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