Depression is common among the elderly but is by no means a normal part of aging. It is not always obvious that an older person is depressed and similarly it is not uncommon for depression to be suspected when a person is just in a low mood or grieving for a short period of time. The reason for this confusion at times is that the symptoms of depression in the elderly may not be characteristic as would be expected of a younger person.
Any number of life events, situations, chronic diseases and medication can contribute to depression. The causes in this regard may differ among age groups meaning that what can trigger depression in a teen is less likely to do so in a senior and vice versa. It is also largely dependent on one’s coping skills and priorities in life. Overall, it is rare for depression to occur for no known reason. Understandably there are certain factors, which are more likely to be seen in later life,that is very likely to contribute depression.
Humans are essentially social beings who are in need of contact and communication with others. Feeling isolated or actually being isolated from family, friends and even the community can quickly lead to depression.
This is more likely in a senior who has lost a spouse, is living a distance from their family, has moved to a new city without the social support they are accustomed to or are physically debilitated and unable to venture out and interact with others.
Death of family or friends and even a pet can also lead to depression among seniors. It is not only the loss of the person or pet in question, but also the grim reminder that death is an inevitability that is close at hand in the senior years.
Sometimes there is a breakdown in a relationship and this is seen in particular with divorce which may occur in the senior years. The grief in being separated from a loved one for whatever reason can also contribute to depression.
There are different fears that people experience at different stages of their life. For the elderly it often revolves around illness, death, being alone, economic difficulty in the retirement years and so on. These fears can contribute to anxiety and depression.
Some fears are largely unfounded. However, there are also certain factors and situations that are more likely to be faced by an older person which could easily lead to fears and contribute to both anxiety and depression.
Depression can arise with various illness either as a direct impact of the disease process or as a complication due to the pain, suffering and debility associated with the disease. It is important to differentiate depression from certain neurological conditions seen more commonly in the elderly such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. While depression can arise with these diseases, sometimes the symptoms of these diseases are mistaken for depression.
Prescription medication can have a host of side effects and can also impact on mental health. Among the elderly who are more likely to be using chronic medication, this can be a major contributing factor to depression. Some drugs used for neurological conditions can also have an adverse effect on the brain hormones that play a central role in mood and therefore mental health. While these drugs may be essential for the management of the existing disease, there are various measures that can be taken to counteract its contributing effect to depression in the elderly.