Despite the fact that older people are better at coping with emotions due to experience, they often become depressed. Why this happens, what are the symptoms of depression and how to understand that your parents and grandparents need help, says André Alemand .
Misfortune never comes alone
While visiting her 75-year-old mother, Connie, Karen (48) noticed that she was often in a bad mood. For example, she talked less and less with her daughter on the phone. Karen’s father died a few years ago, and while her mother seemed to be coping pretty well with the loss, negative emotions slowly built up in her. They intensified even more when her best friend passed away.
However, Connie wasn’t depressed all the time. Karen believed her mother’s current condition had caused the recent fall in the kitchen. Although Karen was told by the doctor that Connie had only slightly bruised her right arm and shoulder, in the first few days after the incident, she suffered from severe pain and could not even comb herself. She lost her appetite, and she often sat looking at one point. The nurse caring for Connie asked her if she would like to take up a hobby, but she turned down all offers.
Connie used to enjoy making cards, but now she has lost interest in it. Then the doctor prescribed her antidepressants.
Karen hoped that they would help, and her mother would be the same again. After a two-week course of treatment, Connie really improved her mood, and now Karen is doing everything possible to make her mother feel constantly supported, for example, organizing regular meetings with her family and friends.
Depression in the elderly
Depression is a relatively common condition in people over 70 years of age. About 12% of Europeans aged 70 years and over suffer from symptoms of depression, while the proportion among middle-aged people is only 9%. However, major depression is rare in the elderly.
Of course, here it is necessary to distinguish between a depressive state and clinical depression. The symptoms of a depressive state are usually much milder, and people suffering from it are described as “sad” or “lethargic.” They lose energy, lose interest in what is happening around them and focus only on the negative aspects of life or their own character. They lose interest in hobbies or social relationships and become irritable, withdrawn, and inactive.
If such a condition lasts more than two weeks and interferes with a person’s normal life, then perhaps we are talking about serious clinical depression.
Patients lie in bed all day, stop talking to their families and constantly think about death or even suicide. These are symptoms of depression, which can be severe. These people need professional medical attention.
What are the causes of depression
A slight increase in depression among older people usually does not mean that a person begins to cope with negative emotions worse, because this ability, on the contrary, only strengthens with age. So what’s the reason? We still do not know the exact answer to this question, but there are several possible explanations.
As time passes, we lose loved ones more and more often, as Karen’s mother did. In addition, depression causes a decline in physical and mental activity. It is obvious that everyday problems, such as difficulty walking or frequent falls, do not make people happier. Probably, Connie from our example after the fall realized how vulnerable and fragile her body becomes. Or even imagined herself in the near future, when she would no longer be able to move around without assistance.
Finally, the elderly may look back on their lives and feel dissatisfied or, according to Erickson, despair.
Erickson argued that those who were dissatisfied with their lives or the role that he happened to play in it are subject to despair. This is why people from lower social and economic strata tend to suffer more from depression, although they have access to the health care system and other social services. Psychotherapy or clerical care helps older people cope with feelings of despair and accept their lives as they are.
Another reason may be atherosclerosis – narrowing of the walls of blood vessels, leading to a reduction in the supply of oxygen to certain areas of the brain, causing microstrokes and damaging brain tissue. Depression can also mean the onset of dementia due to damage to brain tissue in Alzheimer’s disease.