Confronting Sadness in Seniors
By Matthew Shulman1 hour, 17 minutes ago
A bit of sadness is a common companion of aging. Over time, after all, seniors may lose vigor, independence, and even loved ones. But when melancholy becomes outright depression, the elderly are at risk of diabetes, heart disease, and even suicide. It's often up to their unofficial caretakers--their children--to spot depression's signs and take steps to address it.
Depression often manifests differently in the elderly than in younger people. Rather than expressing feelings of sadness, depressed seniors may describe physical complaints--increased aches and pains, headaches, weakness, and, commonly, trouble sleeping. "Look for changes in levels of interest, too," says Dan Blazer, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University Medical Center. Increases in anxiety, irritability, withdrawal, and a decrease in attention to appearance are also common signs. Sometimes, depression arises because of a physical health problem, says Gary Moak, president of the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry and a professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. For example, he says, "as many as 40 percent of stroke victims will develop depression, because many [strokes] occur in an area of the brain that's closely related to the processing and management of emotions." Overall, about 1 in 5 people age 65 and older has depression, according to Moak. The vast majority don't receive the professional treatment they need.