January 31st, 2012 at 10:14 am
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Diagnosing depression in elders is difficult

by Dorian Martin

Mom’s placement in a nursing home due to her chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and Alzheimer’s disease had ripple effects throughout our family. One of the most difficult was Dad’s diagnosis with depression. It turns out he’s not alone getting this diagnosis. A new study out of Rutgers University found that 6.2 percent of whites, 4.2 percent of African Americans and 7.2 percent of Hispanics were diagnosed with depression.

However, treatment varied among groups. Of those who were diagnosed with depression, 73 percent of whites were treated with antidepressants, psychotherapy or both, while 60 percent of African Americans and 63.4 percent of Hispanics were treated.

The researchers suggested future studies should look at cultural factors (such as patient attitudes, knowledge about depression or distrust of doctors) about depression as well as how the diagnosis is made. For instance, minority patients may exhibit more physical aspects of depression (sleep issues or pain) rather than mood or cognitive issues. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) points out that doctors who focus on the physical issues may not realize that these signs also may indicate depression.

Elders and depression: signs and treatment

So what are the signs of depression? The NIMH states symptoms can include feeling nervous, empty, worthless, restless, irritable and unloved. In addition, the elder may not enjoy things that he or she used to do and feel that life isn’t worth living. Other signs include changes in sleep or eating. Other symptoms that may signal depression include feeling very tired and sluggish or having frequent headaches, stomachaches and/or chronic pain. However, these symptoms also may be a sign of another serious illness.

Depression is treatable through medications and/or psychotherapy. Psychotherapy involves the elder interacting with a trained health professional who understands how to deal with depression, thoughts of suicide and other issues. In our family’s case, Dad was prescribed an anti-depressant medication (as opposed to psychotherapy). He took these pills for several years, but his geriatrician ended the prescription once Mom had died and Dad’s life and mental state had improved. Still, treatment was important in helping Dad make it through a very difficult and depressing time.

So if you elder is experiencing any of the symptoms described earlier, talk to the doctor about getting help.

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One Response to “Diagnosing depression in elders is difficult”

  1. Hal Joye

    Forget what is unimportant, and live in the now. No one will have a strong influence over you, that is one way to get over depression.

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