Introduction: Depression in Late Life
Mental health issues including cognitive impairment, anxiety and depression affect approximately 20 percent of the age 55 and over population with severe depression being most prevalent (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Association of Chronic Disease Directors, 2013). Literature also suggests that depression, also described as feelings of sadness, emptiness, hopelessness or pessimism, affects 15-20 percent of Americans age 65 and older (Aldrich & CDC, 2013). Depression is treatable, however is often overlooked or misdiagnosed in the aging population. This can further complicate the impact of chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease, which in turn can result with increase cost in healthcare (Aldrich & CDC, 2013). “The presence of depressive disorders often adversely affects the course and complicates the treatment of other chronic diseases. Older adults with depression visit the doctor and emergency room more often, use more medication, incur higher outpatient charges, and stay longer in the hospital” (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Association of Chronic Disease Directors, 2013).
Developing depression in later life is not a normal part of the aging but is a treatable illness just like any other physical malady. It is however often difficult to recognize in older patients. This could be because symptoms often present similar to those of dementia (Aldrich & CDC, 2013) or because of the stigma associated with having a mental illness. The older adult population in today’s society was reared in a time when mental illness was not recognized as a “biological disorder and medical illness” (Geriatric Mental Health Foundation, 2004). This can complicate individual perceptions older adults may have with seeking help or even how family and friends view the presenting symptoms to be something their loved one will eventually get over (Geriatric Mental Health Foundation, 2004).
Like any physical illness, depression ranges in level of severity of symptoms as well as consequences. Depression in older adults may manifest mild symptoms such as sleep disturbance and change in appetite, however may increase in severity such as the occurrence of irrational thoughts and suicide ideation (Geriatric Mental Health Foundation, 2004). In fact, suicide is one of the most severe consequences of untreated depression in older adults and has been “the most common diagnosis in older persons who commit suicide” (Birrer & Vemuri, American Family Physician, 2004).
The severity of the issue concerning depression in late life is evident. “Because mental health is essential to overall health and well-being, it must be recognized and treated in all Americans, including older adults, with the same urgency as physical health” (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Association of Chronic Disease Directors, 2013).