As we age, our physical health becomes of paramount importance. Unfortunately, our mental and psychological wellness as we age does not always receive the same level of care or attention from ourselves, our friends and families and even the health professionals involved in our general care. There is a common misperception that ageing inevitably leads to low mood and even depression. Among Western societies, where youth is considered the Holy Grail, the attitude that physical decline and psychological decline are inevitable, by mere virtue of the fact that we are ageing, is pervasive. However, contrary to this common misperception, depression is not a natural by-product or inevitability of the ageing process. Indeed we know from research that major depression appears to be less frequent among older adults than their younger counterparts.
However, we also know from research that adults over the age of 65 years can experience depression for the first time in their lives. Furthermore, it appears that older adults’ experience of depression can differ in important ways from that experienced by younger adults. This has led to the coining of terms such as ‘late onset depression’ or ‘late life depression’ to describe the occurrence of a depressive episode within and individual aged 65 years or over. Furthermore, because of the misperception that depression is an inevitable part of ageing, it is unsurprising that depression in older adults remains largely unrecognised and therefore often remains untreated. Give that depression in older adulthood is associated with decreased physical, cognitive and social functioning, greater self-neglect and higher incidence of physical illness, this is very concerning.
The development of late onset depression is not necessarily due to any one thing, but can result from the interaction of a number of different factors, such as age-related changes in certain areas of the brain, physical illness, stressful life events, medication, depression earlier in life, chronic pain, sleep disturbance, cardiovascular changes, certain ways of thinking and coping that may not be optimal in promoting psychological wellbeing, and social risk factors (such as loneliness, financial strain and poor social supports). Fortunately, more empirical evidence is demonstrating that late onset depression is amenable and responsive to treatment, particularly psychotherapeutic input and psychological support.
Signs of Low Mood or Depression In Older Adults
-Neglecting personal care
-Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
-Losing interest in hobbies/pleasurable pastimes
-Social withdrawal or isolation
-Changes in sleep/appetite/weight
-Shortness of breath
-Generally slowing up of body movements, and slowed speech
-Poor concentration and memories problems
-Increasingly anxious or worried thoughts
-Fixation about death and dying
Tips for Staying Mentally Well As We Age
-Getting enough sleep
-Maintaining a healthy diet
-Volunteering your time
-Taking care of a pet
-Learning a new skill
-Engaging in meaningful activities
-Engaging in a physically active lifestyle
-Developing or maintaining social contact and social supports
-Developing or maintaining a positive self-image
-Developing or maintaining a sense of self-efficacy/sense of achievement
-Engaging in meaningful group activities including religious involvement…
Determining if an older adult is experiencing symptoms of low mood or late onset depression can be challenging due to the possible presence of other medical conditions and a reluctance to self-report depressive symptoms. Therefore if you have any concerns about your mental health or you have concerns about the psychological wellbeing of an older adult you know, you can seek advice and psychotherapeutic support from a Psychologist.