Life events can change in a heartbeat. With many of these changes, depression can set in. The elderly are often the most vulnerable to depression and may lack the coping skills to process changes in their lives. Depression is very common, especially later in life. It is important to learn about depression and its risk factors as well as how to spot possible symptoms in others. The good news is that later in life depression can be treated by a primary care physician and 80% of the elderly who receive adequate treatment make a full recovery.
There are many things to be aware of and to be on the lookout for to spot depression in the elderly. Fatigue, change in weight, change in sleeping patterns, unexplained pain, anxiety, and increased irritability are just a few of the noticeable symptoms that a depressed individual may experience. Life changes that trigger depression in the elderly can be a one-time event such as a loved one dying and/or an accumulation of events that cause change to regular living patterns. These can include, but are not limited to, a significant change in relationships and net-working, death of a loved one, sudden lack of a daily routine or structure, change in income, increased medical issues, or increased amount of idle time the individual experiences. Another huge factor that can be a cause of depression in the elderly can be the amount of regrets and disappointments of things that they did not accomplish in their life. Though not an exhaustive list, these listed symptoms and life event changes are good indicators of a person who may be susceptible.
If there is suspicion that someone is depressed, a screening can be completed by a family member or a trained professional. Asking questions is an important part of helping an individual beat depression. There are many helpful resources that are available through various agencies and offices (i.e. your doctors’ office, Area Agency on Aging, etc.). The personal doctor is the best place to begin because they can recommend a resource and/or run a routine checkup without much difficulty. Perhaps a course of treatment can even be recommended. The best thing to do is keep the line of communication open. With family members, one needs to stay attentive with warning signs that they may see. It is important to encourage others to express their feelings and share their concerns and fears as well as encouraging them to make new goals or form new dreams. Encouraging them to increase their daily activities can also improve the risk of depression. Keep your eyes open for warning signs and start a conversation with those who may be at risk. Remember, depression is common and can be treated.
GERIATRIC DEPRESSION SCALE (SHORT FORM)
- Are you basically satisfied with your life? Yes/ No
- Have you dropped many of your activities and interests? Yes/ No
- Do you feel that your life is empty? Yes/ No
- Do you often get bored? Yes/ No
- Are you in good spirits most of the time? Yes/ No
- Are you afraid that something bad is going to happen to you? Yes/ No
- Do you feel happy most of the time? Yes/ No
- Do you often feel helpless? Yes/ No
- Do you prefer to stay home rather than going out and doing new things? Yes/ No
- Do you feel that you have more problems with your memory? Yes/ No
- Do you think that it is wonderful to be alive now? Yes/ No
- Do you feel pretty worthless the way you are now? Yes/ No
- Do you feel full of energy? Yes/ No
- Do you feel that your situation is hopeless? Yes/ No
- Do you think that most people are better off than you? Yes / No
SOURCE: Adapted from J.I. Sheikh and J.A. Yesavage, “Geriatric Depression Scale”
Note: A “No ” answer to question 1, 5, 7, 11 or 13 counts as one point. A ‘Yes” answer to any of the remaining questions can also count as one point. A score greater than 5 suggests some depression and would warrant a follow up conversation and/or interview. Scores greater than 10 almost always indicate depression.