SENIOR SPOTLIGHT: Recognizing signs of depression

Maureen Wendt

Depression affects about one in 10 older adults and is the leading cause of years of life lost, due to its influence on health and other disabilities. Depression tends to last longer in elderly adults and increases the risk of death.

A recent article indicates that approaches to decrease the prevalence of depression among older adults through broader assessment of other relevant life factors appear promising.

There is some evidence that effective treatment of depression among older adults reduces both symptoms and the risk of recurrence of depression. Making sure that an elderly person you are concerned about is evaluated and treated is important, even if the depression is mild. Because they're expected to slow down, doctors and family may miss the diagnosis of depression in elderly people, delaying effective treatment. As a result, many seniors find themselves having to cope with symptoms that could otherwise be easily treated.

Depression in later life frequently coexists with other medical illnesses and disabilities. Factors that increase the risk of depression in the elderly include: Being female, unmarried (especially if widowed), stressful life events, and lack of a supportive social network. Having physical conditions like stroke, cancer and dementia further increases that risk. While depression may be an effect of certain health problems, it can also increase a person's risk of developing other illnesses -- primarily those affecting the immune system, like infections.

Depression tends to last longer in elderly adults and increases the risk of death. Studies of nursing home patients with physical illnesses have shown that the presence of depression substantially increased the likelihood of death from those illnesses. Depression also has been associated with increased risk of death following a heart attack.

Making sure that an elderly person you are concerned about is evaluated and treated is an easy way to avoid escalation of symptoms of depression and related health conditions.

Maureen A. Wendt is president and CEO of The Dale Association, a non-profit organization that provides senior, mental health, in-home care, caregiver support services and enrichment activities for adults. For more information, call 433-1937 or visit www.daleassociation.com .

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