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Late Life Depression

All people feel sad or unhappy at times during their lives, but persistent sadness may be depression, a serious illness affecting 15 out of every 100 adults over the age of 65. Depression is not a normal part of growing old, but rather a treatable medical illness that impacts more than 6 million of the more than 40 million Americans over the age of 65. When depression occurs in late life, it may be a relapse of an earlier depression. If it is a first time occurrence, it may be triggered by another illness, hospitalization, or placement in a nursing home. Unlike the onset of depression in non-elderly populations, depression in the elderly is thought to be a psychological disorder triggered by certain stressors, such as a medical illness.

Depression affects approximately 25 percent of those with chronic illness and is particularly common in patients with heart disease, stroke, cancer, chronic lung disease, arthritis, Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease. Most disturbing among depression statistics is the fact that depression affects upwards of 50 percent of nursing home residents.

Clinical depression is characterized by symptoms that interfere with the ability to function normally for a prolonged period of time. The symptoms of depression in older adults vary greatly and may include: persistent sadness lasting two or more weeks, difficulty sleeping or concentrating, feeling slowed down, withdrawing from regular social activities, excessive worries about finances and health problems, pacing and fidgeting, feeling worthless or helpless, weight/appearance changes or frequent tearfulness, and thoughts of suicide or death. Families and friends should watch for signs of depression in older people and these clues should not be ignored. Serious depression may lead to disability, may worsen symptoms of other illnesses or may result in premature death or suicide. Clinical depression is often undiagnosed and under treated in elderly adults because symptoms go unrecognized in the context of multiple physical problems.

Depression is one of the most successfully treated illnesses. When properly diagnosed and treated, more than 80 percent of those suffering from depression recover and return to their normal lives. Most depressed elderly people can improve dramatically from treatment.

If you are caring for an individual displaying what may be symptoms of depression, consult a physician. The first evaluation is to assess whether the depression is a side effect of a medical condition, a medication or another cause. Treatment for depression is highly successful and is not a normal part of growing older.

For more information you may contact the National Mental Health America Office at 1-800-969-6642 or log onto www.nmha.org.


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