Increasing age increases our vulnerability to a large number of illnesses, including depressive illness.
The lifestyle and health changes of older people in many cases increase the risk of depressive illness. Factors such as social isolation, loneliness, failing physical health, financial insecurity and worries about the future all increase the risk of developing depressive illness.
A vital concept in the older person and depression is that depression in the elderly mimics the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease or other forms of dementia, known in lay terms as senility.
IT IS VERY IMPORTANT TO REMEMBER THAT AN ELDERLY DEPRESSED PERSON APPEARS TO HAVE ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE, AND THERE IS NOTHING TO BE LOST, AND EVERYTHING TO BE GAINED by TREATING AN ELDERLY PERSON WITH A TRIAL OF ANTIDEPRESSANT MEDICATION, TO ENSURE THEY REALLY DO NOT HAVE DEPRESSIVE ILLNESS. Indeed, many apparently irreversibly demented elderly people have made dramatic recoveries following treatment of their depression. As any antidepressant has only a seventy per cent chance of helping an individual patient, a trial or more than one antidepressant agent from different categories may be appropriate.
Even in cases of established Alzheimer’s Disease or other forms of dementia, it is quite common for depression to develop also, especially where the person involved has some awareness and insight into their illness. In such cases, an antidepressant may significantly improve the older person’s remaining quality of life, although of course it will not help the underlying Alzheimer’s Disease.
Elderly people who develop depressive illness often lose the ability to care for themselves, become very forgetful and easily confused, and develop various behavioural problems totally out of keeping with their normal personality. Similar symptoms do of course develop in Alzheimer’s Disease, but usually at a much more gradual rate. Establishing the correct diagnosis, or deciding that both Alzheimer’s Disease are simultaneously present, usually requires a specialist opinion, and/or a trial of one or two antidepressant agents.
Hopefully, before any elderly person is classified as having irreversible Alzheimer’s Disease, or indeed depressive illness, their physician will have ensured that all underlying common medical illnesses have been out-ruled, such as gradual heart failure, or an under-active thyroid gland.
The harsh reality is that the elderly have the highest rate of suicide in any population, although most publicity in recent times has resulted from the increasing suicide rates in young adults. In theory, vigorous treatment with antidepressant medications would prevent very many of these suicides, and would markedly improve the quality of life of very many elderly people suffering from undiagnosed depressive illness.
Important Disclaimer: This site is medical information only, and is not to be taken as diagnosis, advice or treatment, which can only be decided by your own doctor.