It is not unusual for older adults who have debilitating health conditions and loss of independence to feel depressed. Depression may also affect older adults because of situations such as limited financial resources, or grief from loss of their friends or older relatives. This is why, for a patient of any age, it’s important to properly diagnose and treat depression so that he or she can enjoy a higher quality of life and avoid further health risks, or, at the very worst case, suicide.
Common Symptoms of Depression in the Elderly
Families of elderly individuals might notice behavior changes that might signal depression. Older adults who suddenly become withdrawn, show little interest in activities that were once enjoyable, and those who start misusing over-the-counter medicines, prescription medications, and alcohol could be suffering from depression. Expressions of hopelessness could also be signs of depression in older people. Since other health complications are more common as we age, it becomes particularly important to get a proper diagnosis and rule out the possibility of other health conditions causing depression-like symptoms. To do this, healthcare professionals and caretakers can make use of a geriatric depression scale.
What is a Geriatric Depression Scale?
A geriatric depression scale is a tool that can be used to assess depression or the potential for depression in older adults. The scale uses simple questions to measure the level of depression, type of depression, and what could be the underlying causes.
Sample Questions on the Geriatric Depression Scale
Each of the questions on the geriatric depression scale is designed to provide insight into an older adult’s emotional state. Examples of questions on the geriatric depression scale include the following:
- Are you bored?
- Do you feel that something bad is about to happen?
- Do you feel that most people have a better life than you?
- Are you happy most of the time?
- Do you feel helpless?
- Are satisfied with your life?
- Do you ever feel worthless?
- Do you enjoy going out, or do you prefer staying at home?
Potential Challenges in Using the Geriatric Depression Scale
It should be noted that assessing older adult can be difficult because other factors enter into the equation. For the person with dementia, recalling information or understanding the questions would be challenging.
Another problem with using the tool is that bias may enter, since some older adults may not be completely forthcoming with their answers. In other words, they might answer the questions based on what they think is acceptable to the person conducting the assessment.
Successful Use of the Geriatric Depression Scale Leading to Treatment
Fortunately there is help for older adults at risk for depression. Families, children of older adults and health care professionals should not assume that sadness, and being secluded are “normal” signs of aging. Healthy older adults enjoy independence and socializing with others. When an older adult exhibits behavior changes that signal depression, a thorough evaluation by a qualified mental health professional or therapist should be accomplished. Evaluations may reveal the reasons an adult feels depressed.
Treatment for depression in older adults may include medication and psychotherapy. In a situation where the older adult has lost a significant other to death, grief counseling may be helpful. In this case, the individual should expect to feel better as time passes and he or she has moved through the grieving process. In other circumstances, therapeutic interventions such as hospitalization, long-term counseling and anti-depressants may be prescribed to alleviate depression. Since depression can lead to substance abuse or misuse, when such is the case, substance abuse counseling or treatment might be prescribed.