Contributed by Vicki Angstmann, MAC
GAH Geriatric Behavioral Services
October is Depression Awareness Month which brings attention to the causes, symptoms, and treatment of depression. Everyone feels sad, blue, and even lonely at times. It is not uncommon to experience feelings of sadness for a few days. However, when these feelings linger for weeks and months, these blue days can actually be related to depression. It is estimated that 20 million adults suffer from depression over the course of a year. People at any age are at risk for depression, including senior citizens. Geriatric depression is a disorder affecting older adults. Lasting depression is a treatable disease and is not a typical part of aging.
Many situations can contribute to or cause depression. Older adults are at risk due to the changes which occur late in life. Loss of a spouse, increased isolation, limited mobility, financial concerns, and medical issues are circumstances which may occur late in life and increase the susceptibility older people have to depression. As observed by Kenna Dunlap-Johnson MSW, LCSW, program director of the Gibson Behavioral Services at Gibson Area Hospital, "Geriatric depression is much more common than we think."
Depression can not only prevent a person from the enjoyment of life, but it can also disrupt daily activities such as sleep, appetite, energy level, and physical health. Recognizing depression in senior citizens begins by knowing the signs and symptoms of the disease. Signs and symptoms of depression are similar in any age group. These may include:
ï· feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness
ï· tires easily
ï· crying spells
ï· decreased ability to concentrate
ï· withdrawal from family and friends
ï· sleep problems – sleeping more or less than usual
ï·changes in appetite, weight gain or loss
ï· thoughts of suicide and thoughts of death
ï·physical aches and pains
Johnson explains, "This population (older adult) doesn’t even realize they have depression. Often times, the physical complaints of older people are rooted in depression and anxiety." Aches and pains and other symptoms associated with depression are often dismissed as a part of the normal aging process. Fatigue and physical discomfort may be mistaken for the arthritis typically experienced with age, and lack of concentration may be attributed to the cognitive decline found in older people. Not only are these symptoms of depression, but they are key clues for recognizing depression in senior citizens. Additional clues indicating a senior is struggling with depression include: feelings of hopelessness or helplessness, anxiety and worries, memory problems, lack of energy/motivation, slowed movement and speech, neglect of personal hygiene, or forgetfulness in taking medications. A person struggling with depression may have thoughts of death or suicide. It is important to note that older Americans have the highest suicide rate in our society; elderly white males commit suicide more than any other age group. The suicide rate for older adults is five times higher than younger individuals, and the rate continues to increase with age.
Many physical diseases can actually cause depression, including but not limited to, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and thyroid problems. A person suffering with any one of these diseases is at greater risk for depression. Many older adults also are prone to develop depression after an injury or illness. If depression is undiagnosed, the person’s ability to recover from the illness or injury may be hindered. Sadly, the physical disease, not depression, is often blamed for the depressive symptoms, preventing many older adults from realizing that both hope for recovery and professional help are possible.
Dementia often occurs with age. Many people often mistake depression for dementia. It is important to recognize the differences between the two so that depressed individuals receive the help available to them. With depression, older adults will have a rapid decline in mental ability. With dementia, the decline is much slower. Depression can cause difficulty with concentration, whereas dementia will create trouble with short term memory. Depressed older adults will have slowed speech and move slowly, such as observed in handwriting skills, but the ability to perform these functions is still present. Dementia may reduce or eliminate the ability to perform these tasks as once before. Furthermore, a depressed person will worry about lapses in memory, but a person with dementia will not even notice a lapse in memory.
There is good news. Help is available, and depression is very treatable. The Geriatric Behavioral Services at Gibson Area Hospital provides seniors with quality mental health treatment through the use of a multidisciplinary treatment team made up of a psychiatrist, therapist, and a registered nurse. The treatment team provides medication support, nursing education, and therapy. Therapy modalities may include group, individual, and family therapy sessions. In describing the program, Vicki Angstmann, MAC, Primary Therapist at Gibson’s Geriatric Behavioral Services, explains, "The program at Geriatric Behavioral Services is specifically for older adults. Group therapy is very effective for seniors struggling with depression. It gives group members the opportunity to share their concerns in a safe and confidential place. In my experience, what makes this type of therapy so successful is that group members learn they are not alone in their struggles. Other seniors are going through the same thing. Group members are very helpful and supportive of one another."
A therapist or nurse performs an initial assessment at no cost to determine if an individual would benefit from the program or other services at the Behavioral Wellness Center. The Geriatric Behavioral Services is located at #4 Doctor’s Park across from Gibson Area Hospital. If you feel that you or a loved one may be struggling with depression, please contact the Geriatric Behavioral Services staff to schedule an assessment today at 217-784-4540.