Depression Treatment For Elderly Folks That You Need To Know

Henna Geronimo
December 9, 2022

No one is immune to depression. It can affect anyone, regardless of ethnicity, age, gender, and socioeconomic status. It can impact several parts of your life, including your appetite, energy, sleep habits, work performance, hobbies, and relationships.

The 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health reveals an estimated 21 million adults in the United States suffered at least one depressive episode in the past year. Among them, 5.4 percent belong to the age group of 50 and up.

Unfortunately, many older adults still do not realize that they are already exhibiting the symptoms of depression. Some may even believe they can snap out of it or it will disappear. However, this will only cause them to suffer unnecessarily.

Elderly depression is often overlooked because of several reasons. Some think it’s just a normal part of aging, while others are reluctant to talk about their feelings. No matter the reason, we can’t stress enough the importance of recognizing the symptoms early and getting treatment for depression for the elderly. Doing so can help you cope appropriately and find significant relief from your illness.

does the elderly need treatment for depression

Symptoms of Depression in Older Adults

Depression symptoms in older people are sometimes not evident as they develop gradually. However, they may experience a range of symptoms, including:

  • Sadness or depressed mood
  • Irritability or restlessness
  • Unexplained or aggravated aches and pains
  • Loss of pleasure in activities
  • Weight loss or loss of appetite
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
  • Lack of motivation and energy.
  • Increased use of alcohol or other drugs
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
  • Memory problems
  • Neglecting personal care

Does The Elderly Need Treatment For Depression?

Yes, older adults need treatment like everybody else. This can help them relieve their symptoms and live more comfortably. Otherwise, ignoring the signs or leaving your condition untreated could cause serious problems – including death in some instances.

It is advisable to consult with your healthcare provider to know which steps to take next. They will assess you first and use different instruments to measure your depression. For example, the depression scale for the elderly has been tested and used extensively with the older population. The Geriatric Depression Scale consists of questions that ask how the participant felt over the past week.

depression scale for elderly

5 Treatment Options For The Elderly

Treatment for depression in elderly patients includes the following:

Group Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy examines how thoughts, behaviors, and emotions are interconnected. Its goal is to determine and modify unhelpful thinking and behavioral patterns to improve your state of mind.

Group CBT is similar to individual CBT sessions, except that it is delivered in a group format. It is also modified to be relevant to what the elderly might experience.

During treatment, participants learn practical tools to recognize, understand, and manage their thoughts and behaviors. They become more aware of their choices as they respond to life stressors and try to develop a healthier way of thinking and seeing situations.

Group members are also tasked to make a “mood log” outside sessions to determine which situations trigger their actions or behaviors. The therapist and participants work together to identify common patterns they notice.

treatment for depression in elderly patients includes

Interpersonal Psychotherapy

It focuses on improving one’s relationship and social functioning to reduce distress. It aims to resolve issues within four areas such as:

  • conflict in relationships that causes tension and distress
  • life changes, such as divorce or retirement
  • unresolved grief
  • difficulties in starting or maintaining relationships

During treatment, the therapist will help determine the areas responsible for your current problems and how you should deal with this specific interpersonal issue.

Mental health professionals believe that improving relationships can diminish depressive symptoms and hopefully enhance your functions.

Group Life-Review/Reminisce Therapy

In this psychotherapy treatment, older adults tell their life stories from childhood to the present to help them cope with transitions. This allows them to reflect on the things that happened over the years. Ideally, they will develop an appreciation for all these moments. The hope is for them to have a more balanced perspective. It is also done in a group format.

Antidepressant Medications

Your doctor may prescribe second-generation antidepressants (SSRIs, SNRIs, or NDRIs) to balance hormones that affect mood. These are usually recommended to older adults as they have fewer side effects and do not result in adverse drug interactions. You can combine it with psychotherapy for better results.

depression for elderly

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation

The US Food and Drug Administration has permitted transcranial magnetic stimulation as an alternative treatment for depression. This is ideal for adults who didn’t receive satisfactory improvements from medications.

TMS is a noninvasive technique that employs magnetic fields to stimulate areas in the brain to improve depression symptoms. It doesn’t require anesthesia, unlike electroconvulsive therapy.

A study that evaluated the efficacy and tolerability of TMS found that those who had active TMS vs. sham TMS had higher remission rates. The only adverse effect recorded was mild pain on the scalp. They also didn’t see notable changes in the patients’ executive functioning.

Tips to Manage Depression in the Elderly

Alongside treatments for depression in the elderly, here are other ways you can help older adults deal with their symptoms and improve their quality of life.

Keep Them Active

Research shows that exercise and other physical activities can boost one’s mood and improve their health. Light exercises such as walking and other age-appropriate workouts can help support their physical, mental, and emotional well-being.

Ensure They Eat Healthily

A person’s dietary habits may contribute to their illness, so adopting a healthier diet is essential. Fruits and vegetables high in fiber, whole grains, and lean protein are great for seniors. You should also serve vegetables lightly cooked and keep sugar, starch, and unhealthy fats to a minimum.

depression  for elderly patients

Support Them

Show older adults that you love and need them. Visit them often and listen to their stories. Showing emotional support can keep a senior’s depression under control.

Check The Medications They Take

If your depressed family member is taking antidepressants, make sure they take them regularly and follow the doctor’s orders regarding dosage.

They may also need help with medication management. Remind them to take their daily dose and make sure they won’t miss any dose.

Depression isn’t a normal feature of life as you get older. Neither is it a sign of weakness or character flaw. It is a mental illness that can happen to anyone and, thus, should be taken seriously.

With drastic life changes such as retirement, the death of loved ones, and declining health, older adults are also at risk for developing depression. Despite these challenges, there are ways to treat their condition so they can still enjoy their golden years.

If you know an older adult who might be struggling with depression, we can help. Feel free to contact us to help determine your next steps.

Henna Geronimo
Contributing Writer