Depression can strike at any age, and older adults are no exception. "Depression is a real health issue. It's not just feelings of sadness — it's a diagnosable and treatable condition," says Robert Greenberg, M.D., chief of geriatric psychiatry at Lutheran Medical Center. Although there are many events that can put seniors at risk for depression, such as disability, illness and losing friends and loved ones, it's not a natural or inevitable consequence of aging.
"It's important to address depression as early as possible, before it has a chance to develop into a more severe form that takes a greater toll on a person's life," Dr. Greenberg says. In fact, seniors with significant medical problems and disability are more than twice as likely to develop severe depression compared with younger adults. Watch for these early warning signs of depression:
• Changes in mood, which may include sadness or irritability
• Loss of interest in activities the person used to enjoy
• Low energy
• Poor concentration
• Change in appetite
• Thoughts of life not being worth living
Why You May be At Risk
Depression may occur for many reasons, but certain factors are more common among older adults and can put them at risk. These include:
• Certain medications, including chemotherapy agents, steroids, antibiotics, antiseizure and acid-blocking drugs, can cause depression as a side effect.
• Some illnesses, such as pancreatic cancer, heart disease and stroke, may boost the risk for depression.
• About 10 to 20 percent of people with grief — for example, due to the loss of a spouse — develop depression within the first year of their grief.
• Dementia and depression often can occur simultaneously.
A Brighter Future with Treatment
Fortunately, Lutheran offers a wide range of services that can help. If you or a loved one suspects depression, start by making an appointment with your primary care provider. He or she may refer you to specialists who can provide very effective treatment options. These may include specific forms of psychotherapy, antidepressant medication and more.
"There is a wide range of medications that treat depression," Dr. Greenberg says. "It can take several weeks to several months to determine the effectiveness of an antidepressant medication. It may take several different medication trials before you find the best treatment for you. Work with your doctor to find those medications that provide the most relief."
Highly Effective Treatment for Severe Depression
Forget the overly dramatic scenes you've seen in films. The electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) used is safer, more advances and more effective than ever before. For certain patients – especially those with severe depression who haven't responded to other treatments – ECT is an extremely effective option.
"ECT involves applying brief pulses of electrical stimulation to the patient's scalp, which induces a brief and controlled seizure," says Robert Greenberg, M.D., chief of geriatric psychiatry at LMC and a nationally recognized expert in ECT. The treatment is performed with brief anesthesia and muscle relaxing medication so that there is minimum physical seizure activity or discomfort.
Many patients experience full remission of symptoms within six to 12 treatments, Dr. Greenberg says. How, exactly, ECT treats depression isn't fully understood, but it may help restore balance to brain regions that become over- or underactive during depression.
To find out whether ECT could be right for you, call Lutheran's Behavior Health Services at 718-630-6596.
For more news follow Lutheran HealthCare on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn and foursquare:
Twitter - http://twitter.com/LutheranHC
Facebook - http://facebook.com/LutheranHealthCare
YouTube - http://www.youtube.com/user/LutheranHealthcare
LinkedIn - http://tinyurl.com/mycsas
foursquare - http://foursquare.com/lutheranhc