Depression impacts virtually every social demographic, and seniors are certainly no exception. For most people, mood is a strong indicator of depression, and treatment starts with therapy or counseling before adding medication and other supplemental approaches. However, the way seniors exhibit signs of depression and respond to treatment tends to differ from what we see in younger people. The conventional approaches to recognizing and treating depression aren’t as effective among older populations. To really meet the mental health needs of seniors, the way we approach depression must change to match the way they experience it.
First: identifying depression. Typical depression screenings circle around the person’s mood. Patients self-identify the feelings they experience, and these are used to determine whether they ought to find a therapist. But research suggests that mood-based screenings often miss depression in seniors. Researchers at the University of Missouri have developed non-traditional depression screening specifically for seniors. It looks for verbal aggression, weight loss, increased pain, urinary incontinence, decline in ability to perform daily activities, and changes in care needs. These are manifestations that often arise alongside depression in seniors, and are easier to detect than mood-based criteria in traditional depression screenings, which means that more depressed seniors will get the help they need.
Second: treating depression. Just as in the general population, therapy and counseling are the best place to start. But depression is very often a whole-person issue, not just a mental health issue, and this is especially true of seniors. Decreases in mobility, social interaction, stamina, and even things like eyesight can weigh heavily on a person’s emotions. Valentin Bragin, M.D., PhD has written a new book, Conquering Depression in the Golden Years, which addresses just that. “To win the fight against depression, both the brain and the body should be in sync, fully mobilized,” writes Bragin, who sees mental health and physical health as a two way relationship, especially among seniors. Treating the whole self by incorporating physical exercise, memory training, and diet recommendations along with psychotherapy and group counseling is one way to address depression not on its own terms, but in the real life contexts of seniors affected by it.
© Copyright 2010 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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