“I Am Just So Tired” — Recognizing the Signs of Depression in Seniors

Dec 18, 2023
depression in seniors

Spending time with a senior loved one can help keep them healthy and connected, but it also provides the opportunity to assess how they feel. When a senior says they’re always tired or exhibits changes in mood that don’t seem normal, it may signal the onset of depression. It’s important to understand that depression is not a normal part of aging so symptoms of depression should be taken seriously.

What is depression?

Depression is a word used pretty loosely to describe a variety of moods and feelings that often aren’t attributable to depression at all. For example, sadness associated with loss, frustration with getting older, and worries about finances can bring on feelings of depression that generally pass with time.

However clinical depression doesn’t go away and may worsen and become a health concern. According to the nia.nih.gov article, “Depression and Older Adults,” five common types of clinical depression are:

  • Major depressive disorder where depression lasts more than two weeks and can interfere with daily life.
  • Persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia) where depression lasts more than two years but doesn’t interfere with daily life.
  • Substance/medication-induced depressive disorder where depression is caused by prescription medications or substances like alcohol or illicit drugs.
  • Depressive disorder due to a medical condition where another health problem brings about depression.
  • Seasonal affective disorder where a lack of sunlight limits the production of the brain chemical serotonin which regulates moods.

Each has similarities and differences so it’s best to understand how each is defined and what steps should be taken.

Major depressive disorder

When depression is persistent, lasting weeks and rendering a senior uninterested in daily living, it may be a major depressive disorder. According to the mayoclinic.org article, “Depression (major depressive disorder),” can cause a senior to feel life isn’t worth living and have emotional and physical consequences. Among the many symptoms to watch for are:

  • Memory problems.
  • Sleeping too little or too much.
  • Diminished appetite or overeating.
  • Lack of interest in socialization.
  • Feelings of guilt and worthlessness.
  • Unexplained headaches or back pain.
  • Thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts.

When any of these symptoms are present it’s better to be safe than sorry and seek immediate medical treatment.

Persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia)

Although less severe than major depressive disorder, persistent depressive disorder is characterized by how long it lasts, which can be a lifetime for some. Although symptoms are often similar to those of major depressive disorder, the health.harvard.edu article, “Persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia),” notes that people with persistent depressive disorder may also feel less pleasure, lack motivation, be pessimistic, and have a poor self-image. Also important is that when left untreated, persistent depressive disorder can evolve into major depression.

Although persistent depressive disorder is diagnosed when symptoms last more than two years, it can be treated sooner by a qualified physician.

Depression due to secondary causes

Substance induced depression and depression due to a health condition are two more possibilities. Substance induced depression is among the easiest to diagnose and treat because it may be as simple as discontinuing use of the substance – be it a medication, alcohol or illicit drug – which will eliminate the symptoms in a fairly short period of time.

Depression due to a separate health condition like Parkinson’s disease, cancer, multiple sclerosis, or brain injury can be harder to diagnose simply because symptoms of the disease itself may obscure the symptoms of depression. According to the theravive.com article, “Depressive Disorder Due to Another Medical Condition DSM-5 293.83 (ICD-10-CM Multiple Codes),” research has found that cognitive behavioral therapy may be effective in treating depression in those with Parkinson’s disease, although it may not be sufficient if depression is . In general, however, depression due to an illness may require a combination of treatments that include medications, therapy and techniques like meditation to relax.

Again, if depression is suspected, the first step should be a physician consultation to assess the most appropriate treatment.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)

The dark days of winter and less time spent in natural light at any time of the year can bring about short-term depressive feelings that mimic those of other more serious types of depression. However according to the psychologytoday.com article, “Seasonal Affective Disorder,” SAD may respond to light therapy via sunshine or a light therapy lamp, vitamin D supplements, antidepressants, and counseling. However, to be sure it’s SAD and not something more severe, always talk with a physician before starting any treatment.

At Ganton’s Countryside, our staff take the time to know and understand what each resident is feeling so help can be provided quickly. For more information about Countryside, please call Margaret Nagel at (517) 206-5000 or download our brochure to learn about our care levels, cost, and amenities.

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