Depression and aging

Talk highlights importance of recognizing, treating condition in seniors

A man sorrowfully rests his head on his hand. Depression impacts around 20 percent of people over 65. White men aged 45 to 54 have the highest rate of suicide completion in the nation, while white men over 85 have the second highest rate of suicide completion in the nation. (Stock image from Pixabay)

MARQUETTE — Openly talking about depression and other mental health conditions can be challenging. But conversations about mental health can help individuals and their loved ones recognize potential problems and seek help.

Due to this, depression in the elderly was the topic of a March 26 talk at Brookridge Heights Assisted Living and Memory Care by Ashley Provost, manager of holistic services at U.P. Home Health and Hospice.

“For those who are 65 years and older, it affects 20 percent of the population. That comes down to 7 million people in the United States 65 and older affected by depression,” Provost said. “I think commonly right now it’s overlooked because of the fact that people think that it’s a normal part of aging.”

Highlighting the seriousness of the situation, white males aged 45 to 54 are the group at highest risk to commit suicide, followed by white men 85 and older, she said.

“That’s a lot of people that we know in that age demographic that are really at risk,” Provost said.

While depression during the aging process is common, it’s not a normal part of the aging process and it’s important to get help, she said.

“When you’re looking at depression, it’s not just everyday sadness,” Provost said. “So I bring this up because I think most people will say its a normal part of aging but I want you to know that depression is not a normal part of aging. Sadness is a normal part of aging but depression is not.”

Depression is distinct from “everyday sadness” in intensity and duration, Provost said, noting that depression is “persistent, it’s deep, it’s reoccurring, it’s all the time.”

Clinical depression can involve signs and symptoms such as a persistent low mood, a loss of pleasure or interest in activities once enjoyed, weight loss or weight gain, sleeping too much or too little, fatigue, difficulty with concentration, excessive worry, and thoughts of suicide or death. If five or more of these signs and symptoms take place for two weeks or more, it’s considered clinical depression, she said.

If you suspect you or someone you know may be showing the signs and symptoms of clinical depression, Provost recommends checking in with a primary care physician, as the signs of depression can sometimes overlap with signs of other conditions, she said.

“Depression can be really difficult to identify, mainly because sometimes there’s other pre-existing conditions, different health concerns like diabetes or heart conditions that might mimic depression,” she said.

Depression can have an array of causes. Trauma, genetics, stressful life events, personality traits, biochemical imbalances, and other factors can all play into depression, Provost said.

For seniors in particular, moving to a nursing home or assisted care facility, chronic illness or pain, isolation, living alone or a loss of independence can all be triggers for depression, she said.

Loss of a loved one can also be a trigger for depression. While depression and bereavement have some signs and symptoms in common, bereavement that comes with suicidal ideation or feelings of worthlessness is called “complicated bereavement,” she said.

“Somebody who’s not necessarily experiencing worthlessness or suicidal ideation is just going through what we would consider typical bereavement,” Provost said. “It’s painful, it’s one of the worst experiences (and) aching that you can imagine, but we consider it a part of the life course because we’ll all have to experience it at some point.”

If depression is diagnosed, there are a variety of treatments that can be pursued, she said.

Treatment may involve medication and/or therapy, depending on a person’s situation and needs, she said. Getting treatment as soon as possible and pursuing long-term treatment typically offer the best outcomes, Provost said, noting that 80 to 90 percent of people with depression recover.

The practice of mindfulness — a practice that encouraged participants to stay in the moment by relaxing, breathing and paying attention to sensations — can also be helpful for depression, she said.

“The goal of mindfulness is to help calm the central nervous system when you’re feeling anxiety, you’re feeling worked up or just overly stressed,” she said.

Furthermore, exercise, eating right, socialization, music, art and generally engaging in “meaningful activities with others” can also help a person avoid or recover from depression, she said.

Provost also told the audience about the variety of mental health resources available, ranging from community mental health services offered by Pathways, to local support groups, to bereavement programs offered by U.P. Home Health & Hospice, as well as phone and text hotlines.

While it can be difficult to talk about depression with others in a group setting — as Provost and her audience did — it’s important to do so, as the more it’s talked about, the more it can be recognized and treated, organizers said.

“Presentations like this are so beneficial to our residents and their family members and to our community,” said Jennifer Huetter, executive director at Brookridge Heights Assisted Living and Memory Care. “There is beneficial information that is shared as well as an open forum to discuss further. We’re thankful to have UP Home Health and Hospice as one of our continued partners and are thankful for their offering this service.”

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline offers free information, support and local resources 24/7.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255 and Crisis Text Line can be reached at 741-741.