Depression is not a normal part of aging, and studies show that most seniors feel satisfied with their lives, despite increased physical ailments.However, when older adults do have depression, it may be overlooked because seniors may show different, less obvious symptoms, and may be less inclined to experience or acknowledge feelings of sadness or grief.
In addition, depression often co-occurs with other serious illnesses, such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, and Parkinson’s disease. Because many older adults face these illnesses as well as various social and economic difficulties, health care professionals may mistakenly conclude that depression is a normal consequence of these problems, an attitude often shared by patients themselves.
These factors together contribute to the underdiagnosis and undertreatment of depressive disorders in older people. Depression can and should be treated when it co-occurs with other illnesses, for untreated depression can delay recovery from or worsen the outcome of these other illnesses.
Although many people assume that the highest rates of suicide are among the young, older white males age 85 and older actually have the highest suicide rate. Many have a depressive illness that their doctors may not detect, despite the fact that these suicide victims often visit their doctors within one month of their deaths.
The majority of 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 the rate of depressive recurrences in older adults. Psychotherapy alone also can be effective in prolonging periods free of depression, especially for older adults with minor depression, and it is particularly useful for those who are unable or unwilling to take antidepressant medication.
As with other age groups, more older women than older men experience depression, but rates decrease among women after menopause. Evidence suggests that depression in post-menopausal women generally occurs in women with prior histories of depression. In any case, depression is NOT a normal part of aging.
The death of a spouse or loved one, moving from work into retirement, or dealing with a chronic illness can leave women and men alike feeling sad or distressed. After a period of adjustment, many older women can regain their emotional balance, but others do not and may develop depression. When older women do suffer from depression, it may be overlooked because older adults may be less willing to discuss feelings of sadness or grief, or they may have less obvious symptoms of depression. As a result, their doctors may be less likely to suspect or spot it.
For older adults who experience depression for the first time later in life, other factors, such as changes in the brain or body, may be at play. For example, older adults may suffer from restricted blood flow, a condition called ischemia. Over time, blood vessels become less flexible. They may harden and prevent blood from flowing normally to the body’s organs, including the brain. If this occurs, an older adult with no family or personal history of depression may develop what some doctors call "vascular depression." Those with vascular depression also may be at risk for a coexisting cardiovascular illness, such as heart disease or a stroke.
An estimated six million men in the United States have a depressive disorder-major depression, dysthymia (chronic, less severe depression), or bipolar disorder (manic-depressive illness) every year. Although these illnesses are highly treatable, many men do not recognize, acknowledge, or seek help for their depression.
While both men and women may develop the standard symptoms of depression, they often experience depression differently and may have different ways of coping. Men may be more willing to report fatigue, irritability, loss of interest in work or hobbies, and sleep disturbances rather than feelings of sadness, worthlessness, and excessive guilt, which are commonly associated with depression in women. Also, tragically, four times as many men as women die by suicide, even though women make more suicide attempts during their lives.
In conclusion, depression is a real and treatable illness. It can strike at any age, from childhood into late life. With proper diagnosis and treatment, the vast majority of men and women with depression can be helped. Read Treatments For Depression to find get information on how to treat depression.
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