Depression-in-the-elderly is a common occurrence and is not always recognized. When depression-in-the-elderly is not
recognized, the condition is not treated. This can be serious because depression is a major cause of morbidity and mortality for the elderly. It can result in impaired physical, mental, and social functioning. And depression too often leads to suicide. People aged 65 and older account for 16% of the suicides annually.
Some people think that depression is a part of getting older. Nothing could be further from the truth. Depression is not a natural part of aging. It is not normal to feel depressed all the time as you get older.
Risk factors for depression-in-the-elderly include:
The characteristics of major depression are the persistent low mood, discouragement, worthlessness, sleep and appetite disturbances, or thoughts of suicide. How can you recognize depression in yourself, a friend, or family member? Because the affected person may not recognize the symptoms in himself or herself, it is very important for family members or friends to be aware of telltale signs of possible depression.
If you, or a friend/family member, exhibit one or more of these symptoms, please talk to them about it and discuss it with your family physician. Family support, faith and strong social ties are very important components of therapy for a person suffering from depression.
A deficiency in serotonin and/or beta endorphin is a cause of depression-in-the-elderly. Without adequate levels of these two key neurotransmitters, chemical deficiencies in the brain can result in anxiety, depression, carbohydrate cravings, mood swings, and sleep disorders.
Serotonin is a brain neurotransmitter that regulates our moods, appetite, and sleep patterns. It enhances our optimism, mental focus, and sense of control. Stress, poor diet, lack of physical activity, and excess caffeine and alcohol consumption can deplete our serotonin stores. Beta endorphin is a natural opiate that acts to ease physical and emotional pain, control anxiety, and reduce anger.
As is the case with all chronic diseases faith, family support, nutrition and exercise play significant roles in prevention and management of depression-in-the-elderly. Drugs like Prozac and Paxil work by prolonging the availability of serotonin to the brain but have several side effects. However, all of these tools should be considered by you and your physician in developing a plan to manage depression. The physician may also recommend psychotherapy or counseling to determine the root cause of the depression.
Moderate exercise such as walking has been shown to reduce the risk of a heart attack but it does much more including relieving depression. However the exercise must be done on a regular basis. Most of the literature recommends exercising a minimum of 30 minutes per day, five days per week and some recommend a minimum of 45 minutes per day.
Low levels of folic acid, a B vitamin, have been associated with depression. Several studies have shown that supplementation has improved the depression in those with low values. Vitamin B6, folic acid and vitamin B12 act as coenzymes in the synthesis of SAMe. Deficiencies in any one of these vitamins can disrupt the metabolic formation of SAMe. SAMe plays a vital role in brain function and is responsible for the synthesis of several neurotransmitters including serotonin.
Prevention or management of depression-in-the-elderly should include the following: