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Know the difference between sadness, depression

Senior Moments

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POSTED: October 7, 2017 7:00 p.m.
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Rich DeLong is the executive director of Station Exchange Senior Care.

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I started thinking about all of the many tragedies we have experienced or witnessed lately. The massacre in Las Vegas, the multi-hurricane-ravaged areas of Puerto Rico, Texas, Florida and even our own coastline of Georgia. Life is hard enough most days without tragic events such as these.

If you have been through a recent disaster or life-changing loss – and most of us have – you know, and may even be experiencing, the feelings that follow such events. Our hearts go out to all of the people we see hurting each and every day.

The stresses of such events, even those we see but may not experience, weigh heavy on us. Add on top of all this the difficulties and challenges we face as we become older adults and you have a recipe for depression.

It’s natural to feel grief in the face of major life changes that many elderly people experience, such as leaving a home of many years or losing a loved one. Sadness and grief are normal, temporary reactions to the inevitable losses and hardships of life.

Unlike normal sadness, however, clinical depression doesn’t go away by itself and lasts for months. Clinical depression needs professional treatment to reduce duration and intensity of symptoms. Any unresolved depression can affect the body for sure.

Although there is no single, definitive answer to the causes of depression, many factors – psychological, biological, environmental and genetic – likely contribute to the development of depression. For some older people, particularly those with lifelong histories of depression, the development of a disabling illness, loss of a spouse or a friend, retirement, moving out of the family home or some other stressful event may bring about the onset of a depressive episode.

Late-life depression also increases risk for medical illness and cognitive decline. Depression, if left untreated, is a risk for heart disease and can suppress the immune system, raising the risk of infection. Depression is also the single most significant risk factor for suicide in the elderly population, with older Caucasian males having the highest rate of suicide in the U.S. Tragically, many of those people who go on to die by suicide have reached out for help – yet depression frequently goes undiagnosed.

It should also be noted that depression can be a side effect of some medications commonly prescribed to older people, such as medications to treat hypertension. Finally, depression in the elderly population can be complicated and compounded by dependence on substances such as alcohol, which acts as a depressant.

Older women are twice as likely as men to become seriously depressed. Biological factors like hormonal changes may make women more vulnerable. The stresses of maintaining relationships or caring for an ill loved one and children also typically fall more heavily on women, which could contribute to higher rates of depression.

The answer for depression is not easy, but seeking help is the first step. Medications can be beneficial and may be combined with supportive psychotherapy, physical therapy and/or cognitive behavioral therapy to improve their effectiveness.

Medicines do have side effects as well as benefits, so the selection of the best treatment is often made based on tolerability of the side effects. Electroconvulsive therapy may also be very useful in the treatment of severe depression for carefully selected people.

See your physician for a referral to a specialist who can offer assistance. We all need help from time to time my friends.

Contact him at 912-531-7867 or email him at SeniorMomentsWithRich@gmail.com.

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