|Some people have
the mistaken idea that it is normal for the elderly to feel
depressed. On the contrary, most older people feel satisfied
with their lives. Sometimes, though, when depression develops,
it may be dismissed as a normal part of aging. Depression in
the elderly, undiagnosed and untreated, causes needless suffering
for the family and for the individual who could otherwise live
a fruitful life. When he or she does go to the doctor, the symptoms
described are usually physical, for the older person is often
reluctant to discuss feelings of hopelessness, sadness, loss
of interest in normally pleasurable activities, or extremely
prolonged grief after a loss.
Recognizing how depressive symptoms in older people
are often missed, many health care professionals are learning
to identify and treat the underlying depression. They recognize
that some symptoms may be side effects of medication the older
person is taking for a physical problem, or they may be caused
by a co-occurring illness. If a diagnosis of depression is made,
treatment with medication and/or psychotherapy will help the
depressed person return to a happier, more fulfilling life.
Recent research suggests that brief psychotherapy (talk therapies
that help a person in day-to-day relationships or in learning
to counter the distorted negative thinking that commonly accompanies
depression) is effective in reducing symptoms in short-term
depression in older persons who are medically ill.
Psychotherapy is also useful in older patients who cannot or
will not take medication. Efficacy studies show that late-life
depression can be treated with psychotherapy. Improved recognition
and treatment of depression in late life will make those years
more enjoyable and fulfilling for the depressed elderly person,
the family, and caretakers.