Depression Is Not a Normal Part of Aging

Studies show that older adults feel satisfied with their lives, despite having more illnesses or physical problems. However, when older adults do have depression, it may be overlooked because they may show different, less obvious symptoms. They may be less likely to experience or admit to feelings of sadness or grief.

Sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish grief from major depression. Grief after the loss of a loved one is a normal reaction to the loss and generally does not require professional mental health treatment. However, grief that is complicated and lasts for a very long time following a loss may require treatment.

Older adults also may have more medical conditions such as heart disease, stroke or cancer, which may cause depressive symptoms. They may also be taking medications with side effects that contribute to depression.

Some older adults may experience what doctors call vascular depression. Vascular depression may result when blood vessels become less flexible and harden over time, becoming constricted. Such hardening of vessels prevents normal blood flow to the body’s organs, including the brain. Those with vascular depression may have, or be at risk for, co-existing heart disease or stroke.

Many people assume that the highest rates of suicide are among young people, but white males age 85 and older have the highest suicide rate in the United States. Many have a depressive illness that their doctors are not aware of, even though many of these suicide victims visit their doctors within one month of their deaths.

Most older adults with depression improve when they receive treatment with an antidepressant, psychotherapy or a combination of both. Research has shown that medication alone and combination treatment are both effective in reducing depression in older adults. Psychotherapy alone also can be effective in helping older adults stay free of depression, especially among those with minor depression. Psychotherapy is particularly useful for those who are unable or unwilling to take antidepressant medication.

Go here for more resources about depression and how to help you or a loved one cope. You can also read the National Institutes of Mental Health’s (NAMI) depression overview.

Contracted by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), atom Alliance is working with physician offices and inpatient psychiatric facilities to increase depression screening and follow up treatment and reduce hospital readmissions as a result.