Over six million Americans 65 and older are affected by late life depression but only ten percent ever receive treatment. Why? Because many people think that depression is a normal part of aging. Due to the many health challenges older adults face, neither they nor their families recognize the symptoms of depression or mistake them as signs of other conditions that plague the elderly: Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia; arthritis, cancer, heart disease, stroke, etc.
If depression goes untreated, older adults face increased risks of additional illnesses and cognitive decline. The elderly are much more likely to seek treatment for other physical ailments than they are for depression and the symptoms for depression for them can be different than for those who are younger.
Depression in older adults can be characterized by memory loss and confusion, social withdrawal and irritability, loss of appetite and inability to sleep, also delusions and even hallucinations. The best way to determine if someone is depressed is with a physical exam which includes a review of all medications, plus a clinical and psychiatric interview. Blood tests and imaging studies, such as a CT scan, can eliminate other medical conditions that require different treatments.
Fortunately, treating older adults for depression does help. In fact, 80 percent of those who are clinically depressed can be successfully treated with medication, psychotherapy, electroconvulsive therapy or a combination of the three.