Posted: 4:07 p.m. Monday, June 24, 2013
By Judith Graham
Bobbie Ferguson, 71, has a message for older people who are feeling depressed and their families.
"Get to professionals who will provide help," said this Pittsburgh resident, who's struggling through her third bout of this condition.
"A lot of older folks are overwhelmed – they drink, they self-medicate – but they don't want to go see anyone about it," she said.
Ferguson is being treated with anti-depressants, which provide initial relief for about 50 percent of older patients and can aid up to 70 percent when medication regimens are subsequently altered. Other recommended interventions for seniors include problem-solving therapy, cognitive behavior therapy, and interpersonal therapy, according to a 2011 review.
Getting help is important because depression in later life tends to be recurrent, with a shorter interval between relapses, and an average three-year recovery period for about two-thirds of patients.
Symptoms may not resemble those in younger adults. Older adults are less likely to report intense feelings of sadness and more common to say things such as "my food doesn't taste right, I'm not sleeping well, I'm having trouble concentrating," said Barry Lebowitz, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine.
Minor depression in older adults – feelings of helplessness or a loss of pleasure in life that doesn’t rise to the threshold of major depression -- is also a significant concern and should not be overlooked, Lebowitz said. Up to 20 percent of older adults are thought to have "sub-threshold" depression; this raises their chance of developing major depression by almost 30 percent, according to a 2006 study in the American Journal of Psychiatry.
Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan health policy research and communications organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.