Depression in SC Elderly Population
In a study released in 2021, America’s Health Rankings, UnitedHealth Foundation found that over 19% of females aged 65+ and 11.5% of men aged 65+ are living with depression in South Carolina, as diagnosed by a medical professional. The study shows that depression in SC seniors has been above the national average since 2011.
Though prevalent in our society, depression is not a normal part of aging, and some researchers believe that there are more seniors suffering than are documented due to stigmas which prevent seniors from seeking help. Also, many symptoms are overlooked by family, friends, and possibly the seniors themselves. According to WebMD, only 10% of seniors suffering from depression get treatment.
This blog will discuss the contributing factors and signs of depression in the elderly, along with tips for prevention. Depression is a treatable illness that can be managed successfully with the advice of a trained medical professional.
Many of the contributing factors to depression in the elderly are the same as those of the general population:
- Managing chronic pain or illness
- Grief from the loss of a spouse or loved one
- Side effect of prescription medications
- Genetics and chemical imbalances
- Associated with certain illnesses like thyroid disease, heart disease, and cancer
In addition to being affected by the above issues, seniors also face such things as:
- Loss of independence (for example, problems caring for themselves or loved ones, loss of driving privileges, downsizing, and moving from home)
- Dementia related depression & anxiety
- Isolation and loneliness
One of the most used tools to identify depression in seniors is the Geriatric Depression Scale (GDS), which was developed in 1982. The short form of this questionnaire is located at the end of this article and is also widely available online. It is not meant to replace consultation with a medical professional but can be a valuable tool in gauging mental health.
In addition to considering the results of the GDS, there are also some other warning signs and symptoms to be aware of:
- Avoidance – seniors may understandably avoid extreme heat or strenuous exercise but avoiding activities of daily living (ADL’s) like bathing may be a sign that something is wrong. Other signs may be lack of eye contact and a diminished desire to do things they normally do, like religious services and family gatherings.
- Difficulty making decisions – memory, emotions, and judgment processes have a direct affect on decision making. When seniors struggle to make decisions or change their minds frequently, the issue might be caused by dementia or an underlying mental illness.
- Unexplained gastrointestinal issues – though many factors may contribute to gastrointestinal distress, gut health and mental illness have been linked in numerous medical studies and depression cannot be ruled out as a possible cause of stomach issues.
- Agitation and moodiness – irritability may be caused by pain or medication related side effects but take notice of any unexplained changes in personality which could be a sign of a deeper issue.
- Change in appetite or sleeping habits – this is often one of the first noticeable signs of depression. If a senior's habits swing to extremes with food & rest (either eating or sleeping too much or not enough), it may be time to investigate further.
We have touched on contributing factors and possible signs of geriatric depression. Depression can be prevented and managed to create a better quality of life for seniors. Here are a few tips:
- Treat any illness that may be contributing to symptoms.
- Consult with a healthcare professional about medication side effects and ask to discontinue any that may be making symptoms worse.
- Avoid alcohol and sleep aids.
- Exercise regularly with your medical professional’s permission and guidance.
- Surround yourself with caring, positive people and find activities which you enjoy.
- Develop good sleep habits and patterns.
- Educate yourself on the signs, symptoms, and diagnostic tools available for depression.
GERIATRIC DEPRESSION SCALE (short form)
Instructions: Circle the answer that best describes how you felt over the past week.
- Are you basically satisfied with your life? Yes No
- Have you dropped many of your activities and interests? Yes No
- Do you feel that your life is empty? Yes No
- Do you often get bored? Yes No
- Are you in good spirits most of the time? Yes No
- Are you afraid that something bad is going to happen to you? Yes No
- Do you feel happy most of the time? Yes No
- Do you often feel helpless? Yes No
- Do you prefer to stay at home, rather than going out and doing things? Yes No
- Do you feel that you have more problems with memory than most? Yes No
- Do you think it is wonderful to be alive now? Yes No
- Do you feel worthless the way you are now? Yes No
- Do you feel full of energy? Yes No
- Do you feel that your situation is hopeless? Yes No
- Do you think that most people are better off than you are? Yes No
Total Score ________________________________
1 point for yes on questions 2,3,4,6,8,9,10,12,14,15
1 point for no on questions 1,5,7,11,13
Normal: 0-4/ Mild Depression 5-8/ Moderate Depression 9-11/ Severe Depression 12-15