As people get older, retire, and begin to experience increasing health problems, there are a number of factors that can lead to depression. But contrary to popular belief, experts say depression is not a natural part of ageing, and older people can benefit from treatment just like everyone else.
In fact according to Associate Professor Michael Baigent, Clinical Advisor to beyondblue, depression is less prevalent in older people than in younger people.
“It’s certainly not an issue you would say goes with ageing,” says Dr Baigent. “If you look at depression across the age groups, depression is less common in people who are older than people who are younger.”
“In fact many older people are more resilient.”
risk factors for older people
According to research by beyondblue, while older people are not necessarily more prone to depression than other age groups, there are certain risk factors in late life that can greatly increase people’s chances of developing depression, including:
An increase in physical health problems/conditions such as heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease
- Chronic pain
- Loss of relationships, independence, self-worth, mobility and flexibility
- Loss of work and income (retirement or redundancy)
- Social isolation
- Moving into an aged care facility
- Admission to hospital
- Particular anniversaries and the memories they evoke
“Depression can affect older people and older people can respond very well to treatment,” says Dr Baigent.
depression is treatable for all age groups
According to Dr Baigent, the problem with depression in older people is not a higher rate of prevalence, but the fact it is less recognised or detected in older people, with the people around them less like to encourage them to seek help.
“When people notice somebody who is older is depressed they might not perceive it as being an illness that wants treatment,” says Dr Baigent.
“They might perceive it as being a natural state of their age.”
Unfortunately, the person with depression may look at it the same way.
“People think naturally as you get older, you get less happy. But it’s a fallacy.”
So if you or someone close to you is showing signs of depression, it’s important for them to seek help, and remember that effective treatments are available regardless of age.
so what are the signs of depression?
“You may find people becoming teary, having less interest in things, losing their sense of enjoyment in life, having thoughts of not wanting to be alive and seeing no point in going on,” says Dr Baigent. “They may also lose their appetite, lose weight and have no energy left or have a change in their sleeping pattern.”
When it comes to older people, Dr Baigent says, depression can also present in different ways.
“Depression can affect their ability to think clearly and they might find they are not able to remember things. They might find their concentration is poor ,that they can’t solve problems like they could before and they might worry that they are getting dementia when it is really depression that is producing all those symptoms and signs.”
So, he says, if you notice someone around you with signs of depression, the main aim is to get them to a general practitioner to be assessed.
“If you are worried about someone who has depression and they are quite ambivalent about it, it’s really helpful to make the appointment for them and maybe even accompany them,” he concludes.
If you or someone around you are in need of urgent medical or psychological assistance please contact your local doctor, the emergency department of your local hospital, a specialist mental health service provider or other health professional.
If you need to talk to someone straight away call:
beyondblue info line – 1300 22 4636
Lifeline – 13 11 14