Look for Symptoms of Depression in Aging Parents

January 12, 2015
Signs of Decreasing Appetite

Aging parents often refuse to acknowledge depression.

Are aging parents in your care depressed? According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), almost 20% of Americans over the age of 65 – that  is, 6.5 million out of 35 million – suffer from depression.  This is a startlingly high figure, and one that suggests that more needs to be done to both identify and treat aging parents with depression.

Depression in aging parents has consequences

Depression is a serious condition no matter when in life it occurs, but it has special ramifications for those who are older. Aging parents and other older individuals with depression are at an increased risk of illnesses. Depression also has a significant impact on cognitive decline. In addition, those who are depressed are more likely to consider or to attempt suicide.

Signs of depression

According to NAMI, these are some of the warning signs of depression that aging parents and others may present:

  • Memory problems
  • Confusion
  • Social withdrawal
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Vague complaints of pain
  • Sleeplessness
  • Irritability
  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations

As may be obvious to many, these are characteristics that are also common symptoms of many other illnesses and conditions, including various forms of dementia. Complicating the issue is the fact that many older adults are reluctant to admit to feelings of sorrow or depression; when asked, they will often deny that there is any problem. It is wise for caregivers to keep on the lookout for other, subtler signs of depression including:

  • Vague and/or persistent complaints
  • Frequent help-seeking
  • A slowing down in movements
  • Behavior that is continually or increasingly demanding

Again, these behaviors are often associated with other complications and conditions; however, if your aging parents or other loved ones are exhibiting any of the symptoms and behaviors listed above, it’s important to raise the issue with a doctor. He or she can then determine whether further testing might be needed; in addition, the doctor can also look through the menu of medications that your patient takes to see whether any of them (or any combination of them) might be responsible for or might contribute to feelings of depression.

Depression can stealthily sneak up on a person. In addition, many people in society expect an older person to “naturally” feel depressed due to physical issues they may be experiencing. However, it’s important to remember that even if a person does have many challenges to contend with, there are ways of addressing the feelings these challenges evoke to help prevent such ones from sinking into depression.

Writer, Craig Butler

Craig Butler has been writing on a wide range of topics for more than fifteen years. As the National Communications Director for the Cooley's Anemia Foundation, Craig regularly writes on a range of health and medical topics. Among the many projects he has written for the Foundation is the Cooley's Anemia Storybook, a collection of original short stories for children with the blood disorder Cooley's Anemia. His freelance work has ranged from reviewing moves and CDs to creating entertainment-related stories about baldness, to creating text for comic strips. Craig looks forward to having a dialogue with you about senior care and issues of concern.

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