For one week in October–Mental Illness Awareness Week–organizations like Screening for Mental Health (SMH) enter the spotlight to raise awareness for mental health issues like depression. October 11 is National Depression Screening Day, a day to remind and encourage those who are concerned about depression and other related mood and anxiety disorders to think about screening. Through National Depression Screening Day programs, more than half a million people each year have been screened for depression since 1991, providing referral information for treatment.
Depression and Seniors
The fact is, depression is prevalent in just about every demographic. Men, women, college students, teens, military personnel, and yes, seniors. Here are a few statistics, according to Screening for Mental Health:
- Depression affects more than 6.5 million of the 35 million Americans who are 65 years or older.
- Symptoms in seniors may differ somewhat from symptoms in other populations. Depression in older people is often characterized by memory problems, confusion, social withdrawal, loss of appetite, inability to sleep, irritability and sometimes delusions and hallucinations.
- Depression can express itself in physical symptoms, as well, through aches and pains which may be attributed to or obscured by other physical problems.
Screening for Mental Health offers programs for people across the spectrum of life. Specifically, their CommunityResponse program is designed for hospitals, community centers, social service agencies, government organizations and older adult facilities. Taking awareness beyond their national screening day, they offer year-round mental health screenings for mood disorders, depression, alcohol misuse and even eating disorders. Online screenings are available when you are, confidential and nonthreatening.
Do Depression Screenings Make a Difference?
According to a 2009 Study by Robert Aseltine, Ph.D., Professor of Behavioral Sciences and Community Health and Director of the Institute for Public Health Research at the University of Connecticut Health Center, screenings make a measurable impact on people who suspect depression may be a problem for them. Nearly two-thirds of people who suffer from depression don’t seek help, but with awareness and tools like accessible online screenings, these statistics may see an improvement.
In his study, Dr. Aseltine surveyed 322 participants who completed an online depression screening tool between October and December of 2008 and evaluated whether or not screenings led to treatment. He found that just over half sought help for depression after being screened and the best news was that at follow-up, 55 percent of those who initially scored “Very Likely for Depression” were no longer in that range once they sought treatment.
Treatment for Senior Depression
Medications and antidepressants are one method of treatment for depression, but older adults are often more sensitive to drug side effects and interactions with other medications they may be taking. There are alternatives to try–some that may require your doctor’s approval or participation in, and others that you can work into your daily life.
- Exercise if it’s possible. Even small steps–a short walk or parking a little further from the door helps. If you’re in a wheelchair, there are safe exercises, from stretching to using soup cans as light weights. Check with your doctor before beginning a new exercise regimen.
- Making connections or reconnecting with others helps battle depression that stems from isolation.
- Sleep. Strive for regular and sufficient sleep each night.
- Eat healthy foods, whole grains, fruits, vegetables and lean proteins.
- Volunteer if you are able.
- Engage in new mental tasks. Learn something you’ve always wanted to learn.
- Laugh. Read a funny book, watch a comedy, or talk about a funny or happy experience with a friend or relative.
- Herbal remedies and supplements may help lift your mood without causing too many interactions with other medications. Check with your doctor before starting a supplement routine.
- Counseling, therapy and support groups are safe ways to share your worries and thoughts with others who can help or who are going through similar issues.
Life changes, loss of loved ones and friends, illness, loss of independence and more can lead to depression, but it’s not a time to give up. If you are concerned about depression in yourself or an older loved one, try an online screening or talk to you doctor. Read more about depression symptoms on our blog.