Developing depression later in life is not only common, it can also be easily misdiagnosed. In fact, depression affects about 6 million Americans ages 65 and older — and only 10% of them get treatment.
The symptoms of depression vary from person to person, so recognizing them as depression can be difficult. Common signs include:
- Low energy
- Loss of appetite
- Decreased interest in activities and/or socializing
- Feeling sad, unmotivated or loss of self-worth
- Inexplicable aches and pains
- Frequent thoughts of death or suicide
- Neglecting personal care
- Inconsistent sleep patterns
As you age, it can be easy to overlook some of these symptoms and mistake them for “getting old.” Plus, it’s a common misconception that depression and feeling sadness are synonymous with one other. While true for some people, it’s not always the case. You may only experience the physical side effects of depression.
It’s also important to know the difference between grief and depression. An unfortunate part of growing older is experiencing loss, whether it’s losing a loved one, your career, your health and mobility or your independence.
So, how can you tell if you’re depressed or grieving?
Since depression and grief can feel like they cross paths, it’s difficult to tell them apart. With grief, no matter how long it lasts, you’ll have both good and bad days. And you will experience moments of happiness during the process. But with depression, the aching sadness and empty feelings are consistent — and they don’t ease up over time.
It is important to know that treating depression can also benefit the overall outcome of other health issues such as chronic pain, diabetes and osteoarthritis. Research has shown that mortality risks increase for those who have depression combined with other clinical conditions. For example, patients who experienced depression and have had an MI are associated with a fourfold increase in death. Patients who are admitted to a nursing home and have depression have an increased one-year mortality.
If you or someone you know is experiencing depression, or thinks they may have depression, we advise you to speak with your primary care provider. Healthcare professionals who have been trained on depression treatment can assess depression with screening instruments such as a Geriatric Depression Scale, PHQ-2 and PHQ-9. Consulting with your healthcare provider is one of the first steps in treating depression and together you can develop a plan of care that best suits your needs. Remember, these symptoms are treatable.
- Espinoza, R., & Unutzer, J. (2016, July 25). Diagnosis and management of late-life unipolar depression. Retrieved from http://www.uptodate.com/contents/diagnosis-and-management-of-late-life-unipolar-depression