Depression, especially depression in older Americans, has been in the news a lot recently. Robin Williams was said to have suffered from it in the days and years before his death. The truth is that the incidence of depression in older people is growing as Baby Boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, reach their 60s and 70s, and women are more than twice as likely to suffer from depression as men. According to the Center for Disease Control, depression among this generation is expected to double in the next 15 years. As geriatric mental health professionals, will we be ready for this onslaught?
Recognizing depression in older adults
One of the most important things we can do as health care professionals is to recognize the early warning signs of depression so we can treat it early. Many of this generation still feel there is a stigma attached to depression, so they aren't necessarily willing to share how they are feeling with their doctors. Unfortunately, this makes the condition even more isolating.
Signs of depression are not always obvious. They can take the form of fatigue, insomnia and even restlessness. Rather than feeling sad as younger patient who are depressed may feel, older patients more often fail to enjoy activities or people around them.
Left untreated, depression can not only lead to a diminished quality of life and even suicide, but has been associated with heart disease and other chronic, potentially fatal, diseases.
Ramping up for the onslaught
Since Baby Boomers are more hesitant than more recent generations to seek out a mental health professional for depression, anyone working in geriatric health care needs to be alert to the warning signs. A patient complaining of sleeplessness, sleep apnea, thyroid problems or even cardiac problems, may also have attending depression. One study by the National Institute of Health found that 70 percent of older Americans who committed suicide visited their doctor within one month of ending their life. This is an opportunity for health care professionals to identify the signs of depression in our patients and take decisive action.
If you haven't already, now is the time to educate all of your health care staff about how to recognize depression in older patients.