Depression in the elderly

Statistics reveal that, besides the period around post-adolescence, there is another depressive peak around the age of retirement: in reality, this disorder which is multifaceted and can have so many different causes not always known and obvious, is quite often misdiagnosed.

Lack of adequate sleep, excessive worries sometimes with arguments not easy to understand, illogical fears for doubts about health, tiredness, lack of initiative, personality changes due to instability, suspiciousness, jealousy, lack of appetite and weight loss; greediness towards sweets; exaggerated emotions; intolerable pains in unusual places; heart palpitations; tendency to isolate and avoid talking to others; these are the most frequent symptoms, sometimes accompanied or substituted by other more unusual ones, and “masking” the underlying pathological psychic condition.

One must remember elderly people are often used to complain about a depressive condition by using physical symptoms, because they are reluctant to talk about personal matters.

Among the most common causes of a depressive state, we should mention bereavements, especially not recent ones; moving home; the end of a working career; children leaving home (empty nest syndrome); the onset of disabling illnesses, the humiliating observation of one’s own physical decadence (losses of memory, orientation, social role, and physical strength, etc.).

The therapist should make an accurate diagnosis, which will be followed by an adequate therapy, thus avoiding the risk of fatalistically overlooking medical intervention by confusing symptoms of depression with the onset of dementia: the two therapeutic approaches are, in fact, radically different, and so is the prognosis.

Currently, several specific medicines are available to doctors which, combined with adequate psychological support, and in consideration of any other existing medical conditions and of the patient’s overall fragile state, make it possible to envisage an effective cure for depression.