According to the National Institutes of Health; of the 35 million Americans age 65 or older, about 2 million suffer from full-blown depression. Another 5 million suffer from less severe forms of the illness. This represents about 20% of the senior population -- a significant proportion.
Depression in the elderly is difficult to diagnose and is frequently untreated. The symptoms may be confused with a medical illness, dementia, or malnutrition due to a poor diet. Many older people will not accept the idea that they have depression and refuse to seek treatment.
What causes depression in the elderly?
It is not the actual holiday that causes depression, but the fact that holidays tend to bring memories of earlier, perhaps happier times. Additional contributing factors that bring on depression may be the loss of a spouse or close friend, or a move from a home to assisted living, or a change with an older person's routine.
Depression may also be a sign of a medical problem. Chronic pain or complications of an illness or memory loss can also cause depression. In addition, diet can also be a factor when proper nutrition and vitamins are lacking.
As an example, Selma's husband passed away, a few months before Christmas. Her family lived close by and would call or drop in often to check on her. Selma seemed a little preoccupied and tired, but this was to be expected as she had been the caregiver for her husband for many years. It wasn't until the family noticed that her holiday decorations were not out and her yearly routine of Christmas card writing was not happening that they began questioning her mental and physical well being.
A trip to her physician confirmed depression, caused by not only the loss of her spouse, but a vitamin B12 deficiency. There were both mental and physical reasons for her depression.
Symptoms to look for in depression might include:
- Depressed or irritable mood
- Feelings of worthlessness or sadness
- Expressions of helplessness
- Loss of interest in daily activities
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Lack of attending to personal care and
- Difficulty concentrating
- Irresponsible behavior
- Obsessive thoughts about death
- Talk about suicide
Treating the holiday blues in seniors.
Get the senior involved in some social or other types of activities. The elder person generally denies any problems or may fear being mentally ill. You can make the difference in and remove the Holiday Blues from seniors suffering from depression. For example, get them involved in an art project which can be a valuable asset for improvement.
The Senior Arts Foundation at Santa Monica is a community based organization to connect seniors to the arts. It acknowledges the excellence of artworks produced, appreciated and collected by seniors. The SAF recognizes the talents of these older adults and aims to expand their horizons into all aspects of the arts. It provides a vehicle to express their artistic vision and support their artistic talent.
For more information, see these sites:
Joseph E. Deering
Santa Monica, California 90401
Telephone (310) 393-0701