Depression in the Elderly
Depression is a medical condition that leads to intense feelings of sadness or despair. These feelings don't go away on their own. They are not necessarily related to a particular life event.
What is going on in the body?
Depression is a disorder of the brain. Researchers believe that chemicals called neurotransmitters are involved in depression. Nerve impulses cause the release of neurotransmitters from one nerve cell, or neuron, to the next. This release allows cells to communicate with one another. Too little or too much of these important neurotransmitters may be released and cause or contribute to depression. Some of the neurotransmitters believed to be linked to depression are serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine.
The elderly face a lot of situations that can contribute to depression. Many important social support systems are lost. This may be due to the death of a spouse or close friend, retirement, or moving to a new home. The elderly are often also dealing with chronic illnesses. The illnesses can decrease activity, which also leads to depression.
What are the causes and risks of the condition?
There are many theories about what causes depression. Depression may be caused by any of these things:
certain medicines, including antibiotics
changes in brain chemicals
lack of sunlight
negative thinking patterns
Risk factors for depression in adults include:
drug abuse and addiction
personal history of a suicide attempt
personal or family history of depression
Older individuals may face additional risk factors because of the aging process or chronic disease. These factors include:
aging changes in the senses
age-related hearing loss
concern about living arrangements
coronary artery disease
death of a spouse or other loved one
some medicines and drug interactions
In the U.S., depression affects 3% to 5% of people over age 65. When the person has a medical illness, such as coronary artery disease, the rate increases to 40%.