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It Isn’t JUST Depression

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How often have you heard comments like: “Oh, mom is just a bit blue;” or “Her husband died six months ago…she should just snap out of it;” or “He just likes his time to himself.” They are all ways to discount what is something of an epidemic among older adults in America today: depression.

If you are a caregiver to an older loved one, the symptoms may be slow to show themselves, but depression is a real medical condition to be addressed every bit as much as dementia or heart disease. Adults 65 years of age and older may only be just 13% of the population, but they account for 20% of suicide deaths. Older adults with depression have healthcare costs 50% higher than non-depressed adults. And depression is common – more than two million older adults manifest some degree of clinical depression.

Where should you look for depression? I mentioned widowhood at the beginning. Well, one-third of widows and widowers meet the clinical criteria for depression within the first month after losing a spouse. And half of these are still depressed a year later. Depression also is a classic comorbidity of a number of medical conditions like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and even cancer, arthritis and heart disease. But the prevalence of depression is really just an opportunity to take action. The data show that fully 80% of depression in older adults can be effectively treated with either medication or talk therapy or a combination of both. If you are a caregiver to an older loved one, however, encourage them to see a mental health professional who can offer the best of both medical and talk therapy. About 55% of older adults who do seek help for their depression reportedly go to their primary care physicians. While PCPs care prescribe, they are not schooled in talk therapy.

If you suspect an older loved one in your orbit is depressed, don’t leave it to them to make their decisions on their treatment alone. The majority are likely to just “manage it” themselves which is not the way one addresses a genuine health problem. And don’t discount it as “just depression.” It’s bigger than that, but it can be addressed!

Charlotte Bishop is an Aging Life Care Advisor, Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Care Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago.

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