In a long term care facility for senior citizens, it's easy to run into a few people who are set in their ways. They may complain about the meals, request to stay in their own rooms rather that come out to common areas and visit with other residents and staff. Some may even be argumentative and can seem to pick fights over things that seem insignificant. Occasionally, this behavior may be indicative of a bad day, but when the same people are withdrawing or lashing out, it's time to take a closer look at geriatric mental health.
A Bad Day or Something More?
Occasional sadness and a cranky mood isn't always a concern. After all, we all have bad days and when seniors move from a home of their own to a place where they need to rely on others to take care of them the transition is understandably difficult. In most cases, an empathetic staff and visits or phone calls from family can help ease that transition. But when seniors continually snap and other residents or staff members, complain of being tired, and display an overall lack of flexibility and irritability it's time to consider if something more serious may be going on.
In the general population, 15% of adults over age 65 suffer from some level of depression, and this number is suspected to be even higher for those who live in long term care facilities. While depression can be a new wrinkle when it comes to geriatric mental health, it can also be a clearer manifestation of a condition that that person has had for years but never treated because of widespread stigma.
Depression vs. Sadness
Depression and sadness are not the same thing. A sad person might skip out on activities for a day or two and may need a little extra space, but usually it won't take more than a couple days for that person to get back into their routine and function normally. Many elderly depressed people won't even admit they are sad, and can become irritable towards anyone who suggests that they are.
But untreated depression in the elderly can have serious consequences even beyond those that occur in younger people who suffer from the disease. Fortunately, many of the treatments that help people of all age groups help the elderly as well such as medication and therapy.
Caregivers need to look for signs of depression, such as stating that things are too hard, or complaining of not feeling well or lacking energy. There may be physical symptoms as well, such as weight changes, sleep troubles, fidgeting, and gastro intestinal problems. A depressed senior may seem persistently worried or have trouble concentrating. They also may cry more often and be extra sensitive regarding what is going on in their environment.
Depression can be brought on by a trigger event, or it can just happen. When it does, the effects of other health problems are amplified and they may be more vulnerable to diseases such as Alzheimer's, dementia, cancer, heart disease, Parkinson's disease, and stroke. By staying alert, and insisting on through record keeping, the signs of depression or problems with geriatric mental health can be identified sooner and seniors can get the treatment that is best for them.