You are now in the golden years of your life and should be enjoying the fruits of your hard earned labour. You’ve worked hard – raised your children well, witnessed their marriages and watched your grandchildren successfully move on to further their studies in a university abroad. Instead of feeling happy and contented, you feel no sense of achievement. In fact, nothing makes you happy anymore. You do not feel like doing anything – not even going for evening walks or attending chess sessions at the community centre like you used to. This feeling has been going on for more than two weeks.
Could something be wrong?
We feel sad from time to time, often as a result of loss. Loss is painful – be it a loss of mobility, health or loss of a loved one. Grieving over such losses is normal. Losing all hope and joy and harbouring intense sadness over a long period of time however, is not.
It may be DEPRESSION.
Depression is a chronic mental condition that can affect one’s ability to cope and live life normally. Symptoms of Depression include:
- Persistent moodiness
- Loss of interest in all or almost all activities
- Decrease or increase in appetite
- Difficulty in sleeping or sleeping excessively
- Restlessness or feeling agitated
- Feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt
- Fatigue and lacking in energy
- Difficulty concentrating or having trouble thinking and making decisions
- Frequent thoughts of death or suicide
Triggers of depression in older adults
Depression in older adults is often triggered by two main factors:
1) Dealing with loss or grief
A sudden loss of someone dear to you can have a great impact on your life. Losing family and friends in old age however is more common and this makes each loss more painful and frequent bereavement may lead to depression. Children leaving home to start families of their own, or moving abroad for studies or work may also leave a void in older adults. This feeling of loneliness may also lead to depression.
2) Chronic illness
Chronic illnesses such as diabetes and cancer can cause tremendous changes in lifestyle and limit an individual’s mobility and independence. For instance, one’s social life may be drastically affected as he/she is not able to carry out activities he/she used to enjoy. This may result in the older adult becoming more withdrawn, which may in turn lead to depression.
Depression may also be the result of side-effects from certain medications. Older adults with a personal or family history of depression are also more susceptible to the illness.
Seeking Professional Help
If you or someone you love is displaying five or more of the above symptoms for more than two weeks, encourage them to visit a family doctor.
A thorough evaluation includes an assessment of existing medical conditions, the medication and supplements you are currently prescribed a physical examination and an assessment of your mental health status, this will help determine whether a medical condition or medication may be causing or contributing to your depression. This is crucial as many medical conditions and prescription medications can cause depression or complicate the condition. Not all is lost if you are diagnosed with depression as depression can be treated. With the help of medication, psychotherapy and counselling, you can recover and lead a healthy life.
Depression or Dementia?
Dementia is another mental condition that afflicts many elderly people. Dementia is a disease in which the brain tissue degenerates leading to progressive decline in mental function. Despite dementia and depression being two very different illnesses, it is difficult to distinguish between these two conditions in the elderly. This is because depression and dementia share many similar symptoms. There are however, several differences that can help you distinguish between the two.
- Prevalence of triggers as dealing with grief and loss and the development of a chronic disease.
- Sudden onset of symptoms.
- Illness may progress rapidly.
- Rapid mood changes.
- Language and motor skills may be slow, but the person is able to complete tasks.
- Aware of the current time and date.
- Aware of where he/she is. - May be worried about memory problems.-
- Triggers are not always necessarily present.
- Gradual onset of symptoms.
- Slow progression of illness.
- May face problems with speech and may be unable to complete simple everyday tasks such as changing one’s clothes or taking a bath.
- Often confused about time and date.
- May get lost, even in familiar surroundings.
- Does not seem to notice memory problems or seem to care about them.