The sudden and startling death of comedian Robin Williams recently opened up a crucial conversation about depression – a topic that is often considered taboo and unapproachable. However, as we approach National Depression Screening Day on October 9, 2014, recognizing the symptoms and signs among today’s seniors should be a priority for all caregivers.

According to NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), depression impacts over 6.5 million of the 35 million Americans aged 65 years or older. Most people in this stage of life with depression have been confronted with episodes of the illness during most of their lives. Others, however, experience their first onset of depression in late life – some in their 80s and 90s. Depression in older persons is closely associated with dependency and disability and causes great suffering for the individual and the family.

Seniors demonstrate symptoms of depression differently than younger individuals, often representing characteristics such as: memory problems, confusion, social withdrawal, loss of appetite, weight loss, inability to sleep, irritability, delusions and hallucinations.

While your loved one insists that he or she is not depressed, they may be reaching out for help by displaying demanding behavior or persistently complaining about vague pain and health issues. Either way, the time to act is now.

The risk of not treating depression – no matter how mild it may seem – is quite serious. It may increase the risk of cardiac diseases, double an elderly person’s risk of death from illness, and it has been associated with an increased risk of death following a heart attack. Additionally, depression also increases the risk of suicide, especially in elderly white men.

There is a bright light at the end of the dim tunnel created by depression. Once they understand the cause and type of depression, a proper course of treatment can be developed and the healing can begin.

How can you help if you are a caregiver?

Medication Management – If antidepressant medications are prescribed, be sure that they are taken right away and organized properly;
Make Nutritious Choices – Proper nutrition is key to providing mood support, so be sure to select foods that will promote brain health and fuel energy;
Make Appointments on Time – Transport your loved one to his/her appointments with doctors and counselors so they can get the support they need;
Staying Active — While many seniors have mobility issues, it is important to stay connected by being open to opportunities for recreational activities, exercise, clubs and trips;

To download the Depression in Older Persons Fact Sheet, visit www.nami.org. To take a depression screening test, visit www.mentalhealthamerica.net/mental-health-screening-tools.

Wilf Campus is committed to preserving the quality of life and well-being of our residents. Residents are offered a whole range of activities including an exercise program. When needed, residents can receive counseling through our consulting social worker, psychologist and psychiatrist.