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Depression may be defined as a state or feeling of sadness, misery, sorrow, wretchedness and unhappiness that may last for a few days. However, Dr. Lim argues that depression goes beyond merely feeling sad for a few days, but it is rather a persistent and continual feeling of sadness and sorrow that can last for weeks, months and even years. Dr. Lim further explains that depression is a disorder, which reflects a sad mood that exceeds the normal levels of sadness (Lim 16). He asserts that depression is a feeling of sadness that is characterized by greater mood intensity and prolonged duration, and has severe symptoms that are accompanied by reduced body functionality. Today, depression is a major health problem, especially amongst elderly people.
It is important to note, that symptoms of depression are not solely based on weird or negative thoughts, bad moods and unbearable behaviors, but also changes in functionality of the body such as reduced body movements, reduced energy, low sexual desire and body aches. It can also result into sleep-related problems, poor eating habits and unexpected weight loss. These bodily changes results from decreased functionality of the nervous systems.
Depression and the Elderly
Most people believe that depression among old people is a result of aging. However, it is important to note, that aging does not have any direct cause to depression. Researchers, however, have linked depression to old age. According to psychiatrists LaHaye and LaHaye, old people experience a lot of depression more often, because they have undergone various medical problems, psychiatric disorders and other life stressors as compared to the younger people (LaHaye & LaHaye 144). These negative life experiences accumulate to overwhelming and devastating levels thereby igniting depression.
Causes of Depression among the Elderly
Depression levels are higher amongst the elderly people due to a number of factors. These causal factors are related either directly or indirectly to their socio-cultural life, economical and financial status, and physical health status. Old people may get depressed as a result of health problems such as prolonged illnesses, severe and persistent body aches and pains, and physical disabilities. Health problems may also result from harms or damages caused to various parts of the body during previous medical surgeries, disease infections or as a consequence of involvement in accidents.
According to Omagari, depression in elderly people also results from feelings of loneliness and social isolations. Most old people usually live alone. This can be due to deaths of family members, close friends or relatives, or relocation of family members leaving the elderly behind (Omagari 53).
In my view, old people can also get depressed, when they develop a sense of reduced purposefulness. This is whereby the elderly feel purposeless and worthless to the society due to aging and inability to work or do something worthwhile or economical. Such feelings can be high in people, who were ones working. but have retired and thus have less income and have lost their financial and economical independence.
Moreover, depression can also result from fear of the unknown. This is where old people fear that they will soon die, or become extremely anxious about their miserable financial statuses or health problems. The elderly also get depressed after a bereavement or death of a friend, close family member or spouse. Such loss of close and personal associates leaves the elderly with unbearable grief that, if not well managed, leads to prolonged depression. According to Aaron and Alford, depression in old people can as well result from physical changes that occur in their bodies, some of which may result from old age, for example, impaired vision, loss of hearing ability and reduced mobility (181). Such changes can cause psychological concerns and stress that builds up into depression.
Symptoms of Depression among the Elderly
Depression affects various people in different ways and can cause a wide variety of signs and symptoms. However, the most common symptoms of depression among the elderly include difficulties in speaking or slow speech, reduced body movements, low self-esteem that results from feelings of hopelessness and unworthiness, frequent abuse of drugs such as alcohol, hallucination, and frequent fatigue and inability to work for long periods. Prolonged stress and lengthened feelings of sadness may result into rapid weight loss and loss of appetite.
In extreme cases, the patient may develop thoughts of committing suicide or get preoccupied with death thoughts due to increased worries about the future. He/she will start withdrawing and isolating him/herself from social setting. In addition, depressed persons experience difficulties in concentration, may have memory lapses as well as high emotional instability, for example, they get easily angered.
Effects of Depression among the Elderly
Depression does not only affect the moods, attitudes, behaviors and social aspects of the elderly, but also affects their physical health. Depression impairs memory and consequently leads to memory losses and poor concentration. Depression also makes the elderly lead lonely lives. Depressed adults often lead boring lives. They rarely enjoy what they used to enjoy before. Depression also affects one’s appetite, interest at work and as well as sleep mood. Depressed persons usually develop poor relationships with other people who are close to them.
Treatment and Prevention of Depression among the Elderly
There is no prescribed treatment for depression, but a number of prevention techniques and counter activities have been suggested. It is advisable for depressed persons to do exercises regularly so as to increase the blood supply throughput the body. Exercises also help in relaxing the mind.
In order to reduce feelings of loneliness and boredom, depressed adults should strive at maintaining close and strong relationships with other people (LaHaye & LaHaye 230). They should create a network of mutual friendships. The elderly who are depressed can also learn productive life skills such as stress management approaches to enable them cope with day-to-day challenges, or participating in activities that they enjoy, for example, sporting activities that require less energy like playing golf.
In cases where sleep disorders are experienced by the patient, he/she should be encouraged to get enough sleep. Elderly people suffering from depression should also have access to adequate food and maintain a well balanced diet. Diagnosis and administration of antidepressants such as Prozac can be used in extreme cases.
However, it is important to note that depression among elderly people is often undertreated and results into many deaths annually. It is the responsibility of the society as a whole to take care of these elderly patients.