By Elizabeth Sukys-Rice, MSW
Depression contributes to two thirds of all the suicides in the 65 and older population. One out of every five people who commit suicide is elderly. In the community setting, at least 13 to 20% of the individuals over the age of 65 report being depressed and at least 43% report being depressed for people in nursing homes.
Signs of Depression
Depressive moods can manifest in the elderly as lack of energy, loss of interest in their appearance and environment, self-pity, loss of control over events in their lives, and no self-confidence. Some of the causes are loss of control over one’s life, loss of physical health, reduction in financial resources, and no social support. A depressed person might feel incompetent, due to their reliance on others for the completion of simple daily tasks. Not reaching long-term goals can leave a person with a sense of defeat. Learned helplessness is a global issue for elders who are preoccupied with loss of control and not being effective.
Depression, an Under-diagnosed Condition Among Seniors
While depression diagnoses in children are increasing greatly, the elderly are largely under-diagnosed. Although depression is the most common mental condition in the aging, it is not easy to determine. The 15-item Geriatric Depression Scale (as discussed in greater detail under the Depression Screening section below)is a tool commonly used to measure depression in the elderly. This test can serve as a short, simplified version of the much longer 30-item GDS used to detect depression in the elderly. Further research is needed to develop a set of cultural-invariant items to be used in transcultural investigations. Our perception about aging could affect our chances of developing depression as we grow older. Those who view aging as a burden have a higher chance of developing cardiovascular disease, heart attacks, and strokes in their later life. A primary care physician might not see depression as a factor, and see only the surface conditions the depression causes, such as heart disease. Studies show that many elders who committed suicide had visited their physician within 30 days of the incident. Sadly, depression in the elderly is often viewed as a side effect of aging.
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