Geriatric Depression (Depression in the Elderly)

What is geriatric depression?

Sundar, a 60-year-old gentleman was frequently complaining of bodyache although he was quite healthy. On some days, he would get irritated for no reason, throw tantrums and grumble at family members. This sudden change in behavior made his son worried. A consultation with the doctor confirmed that Sundar was suffering from depression.

This fictional narrative has been constructed to aid the understanding of this disorder by placing it in a real life situation.

Depression among elders, known as geriatric depression, is rarely identified or treated. There is a misconception that older people generally feel sad because they have health problems or have lost their loved ones, and depression is generally dismissed as a normal part of aging. Also, many elders are reluctant to share their problems with the fear of being ridiculed or ignored which can be very painful for them.

What are the symptoms of geriatric depression?

Depression among the elderly is mostly ignored or is difficult to detect because common symptoms like loss of appetite or sleep, tiredness, irritability can be part of aging or any physical illness associated with old age. Early signs of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and disabilities such as visual or hearing loss can also sometimes mimic some of the symptoms of depression.

Along with the common symptoms of depression, geriatric depression has some characteristic features:

  • Inability to remember events
  • Unwillingness to interact with other people
  • Loss of appetite and weight
  • Frequent complaints about body aches and pain
  • Loss of patience and frequently being irritated with family members
  • Lack of sleep and restlessness
  • Depression can also co-exist with other chronic medical illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension, stroke, arthritis, cancer, etc.

Getting treatment for geriatric depression

Geriatric depression, if not diagnosed or treated, can cause unnecessary suffering for the family and for the individual who could otherwise live a fruitful life. Hence, it is important that elders receive treatment at the early stage of depression.

Doctors suggest that along with treatment or therapy, a supportive family environment combined with affection and care, regular exercise and a structured routine plays a vital role in helping the elder recover and lead a happier and fulfilling life.

Caring for someone with geriatric depression

If an elderly person in your home is suffering from depression, you can offer them emotional support. Listening to their feelings and emotions with patience and compassion helps the elderly person cope with the condition to a great extent. You can take them to the doctor for a diagnosis, and encourage them to take the required treatment.

You can also:

  • Encourage the person to pursue any activity that they are interested in. This activity will keep them busy and occupied. 
  • Accompany them for daily walks.
  • Gently insist that they meet their friends and other family members or relatives so that they can socialize and interact with others.
  • Schedule their day-to-day activities so that they follow a routine.
  • Take care of their nutrition.
  • Encourage the person to follow the treatment plan.