“Depression in elderly people is a widespread and
serious public health concern,” according to the National Institute of
Mental Health. It has been estimated that 15% of older Americans
experience depression at some point in their golden years. In nursing
homes, around 20% of the residents are depressed, especially those living
with a serious medical condition, like cancer or heart disease.
Unfortunately, depression goes under-diagnosed and under-treated in older
Americans and this can seriously affect the worth of their life and their
overall functioning. If ignored long enough, or, if the severity
increases, depression could lead to suicide. In fact, America’s older
population is responsible for 25% of completed suicides. There are
complicating factors, which may mask signs of depression in the elderly.
Factors that prohibit caregivers from recognizing the disorder or
realizing their loved-one may need help. They may be:
Side effects from certain prescription medications can resemble symptoms
of depression. In this case, caregivers may not realize their loved-one is
depressed, but only displaying signs of drug side effects. Cardiovascular
disease medication and hormones are among some of the drugs, which may
cause a person to have side effects that are similar to symptoms of
Depressive symptoms sometimes include mental cloudiness or confusion.
These symptoms can parallel the normal aging process as many people have
come to expect the elderly to have some cognitive deterioration. The
quandary is that normal aging may be blamed for the mental confusion and
The loss of friends and loved ones is a common occurrence of aging, which
may cause much despair. Depressive symptoms include feelings of
hopelessness and sadness. These symptoms could be blamed on a recent loss
to your loved one, and not on depression.
Chronic medical conditions such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease
may cause your loved one to experience a loss of appetite, sleep
impairment, self-pity and lethargy. These symptoms are also encased in
symptoms of depression. The dilemma in this case is whether to target your
loved-one’s illness for the depressive symptoms or depression itself.
Real problems could develop if caregivers assume that depressive symptoms
are causal of another underlying problem. To be safe, have your loved
one’s doctor evaluate his or her condition. Also, there are online
screening tests your loved one can take, print-out and bring to their
doctor to help diagnose depression. These tests can be found at:
- The Aurora Depression Self-Test.
- The Online Depression Screening Test brought to you by the NYU
Department of Psychiatry.
- Sponsored by the National Mental Health Association.
According to Darlene Nipper, senior director of
public education for the National Mental Health Association, “Our online
depression screening test is a means to enhance communication between
patient and doctor. It can be used as the first step toward diagnosing
depression.” The association believes that confidentiality is extremely
important so the web site does not ask anyone to sign in. Additionally,
results of the screening are given back to the person almost immediately.
“The online screening test has been an extremely useful tool for
people,” said Ms. Nipper. “We’ve had more than 4,000,000 visitors to
our website, many of which have taken advantage of the depression
The biggest benefit of online depression screening tests is their ability
to aid caregivers and their loved ones on how to talk to their doctor
about depression, a sometimes difficult condition to discuss.
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