ISLAMABAD: According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), depression in older adults is frequently seen as a "normal" part of aging. In other words, people view it as a natural reaction to widowhood, chronic illness or other challenges that commonly occur later in life.
"The public thinks, 'Well, if I was losing my ability to walk or losing my vision or hearing or people that I love, that it's normal to be depressed when you get older,' and that's just not true," Stephen Bartels, director of the Centers for Health and Aging at Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH, told foreign Newspaper last year.
A Mental Health America survey of adults aged 65 and older found that only 38% of seniors believe depression is a health problem, while 58% believe it is normal to become depressed in old age, reported a social health website.
As a result, the majority of older adults with depression do not receive any treatment for the condition.
Untreated depression can raise the risk for other health conditions and severely impact quality of life. Earlier this year, for example, a heath website reported on a study linking certain depression symptoms with increased risk for suicide. Suicide rates are highest in the US among adults aged 75 and older, at 16.3 per 100,000 people, compared with 11.3 suicides per 100,000 people in the general population.
In line with Mental Health Awareness Week, we take a look at the potential causes of depression among older adults, some common signs of the condition, how it can be treated, and what seniors and their friends and family can do to help stave off depression in older age.
Risk factors for later-life depression
As mentioned previously, adults often face stressful and emotional situations in later life, which can take their toll on mental health. For example, widowhood is most common in older age, and a third of widows or widowers meet the criteria for clinical depression within a month of their spouse's death. Of these, 50% remain clinically depressed a year later.
Health problems that are more common in older age - such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, heart disease, cancer and arthritis - can also increase the risk for later-life depression.
In older age, one may also experience changes in day-to-day life that can prove difficult to adapt to, such as retirement.
"Work creates self-worth, physical and mental exercise, friendship, and sense of belonging," retirement activist Robert Laura wrote in an article for Forbes last year, noting that loss of friendship is one of the most challenging issues after retirement.
"Most of those relationships were tied to the workplace and work functions," Laura adds. "They never made plans to hang out or get together after they retired and, now that the work is gone, so is their social network."
The risk of depression in later life, however, is not solely dependent on life changes and stressful situations. People who have immediate family members with depression may be at greater risk for developing the condition themselves, and certain medications - such as drugs to treat hypertension - can raise depression risk.
What is more, if an individual has experienced depression earlier in life, they are more likely to become depressed later in life.