How to Use a Geriatric Depression Scale

We often see old age as a time of reflection and rest. It is also a time to do all the things that were side lined while pursuing careers and raising families. However, aging is not always so pleasant. Late-life events like chronic and unbearable medical illnesses, loss of loved ones, as well as the helplessness to be part of once-cherished activities can negatively affect an older adult’s emotional well-being.

Depression is a common mental health problem encountered by adults age 60 and over. While aging is a part of every person’s life, depression should not be part of it. This article presents some facts about late-life depression. The figures are taken from the American Psychological Association’s (APA) data.

Prevalence

The prevalence of late-life depressive symptoms among elderly community residences ranges from 11% to 44% (average is about 20%). Among older adults in nursing homes, as many as 50% exhibit symptoms of depression.

Suicide

Many cases of depression in older adults have resulted in suicide. According to APA, older adults post the highest suicide rates of any age group in the United States. Although they comprise only 13% of the total population, older adults account for about 20% of the deaths due to suicide. Depression is found to be the foremost risk factor of suicide in aging people.

Health impacts

Geriatric depression causes suffering and distress, resulting in physical and mental impairments. It can lead to poor eating habits that can cause obesity or geriatric anorexia. Older adults who are suffering from depression are also at a higher risk of memory loss and insomnia. In addition, they have unusually longer reaction times. This increases the dangers associated with self-medication, driving, cooking, and other tasks requiring full attention.

Causes and risk factors

Depression in older adults is influenced by psychological, situational, genetic, and illness-related biological factors. Late-life depression may be caused by loss of self-esteem (alienation, powerlessness, helplessness), loss of meaningful roles, loss of loved ones, diminishing financial resources, declining social contacts because of reduced functional status and health limitations, and lack of coping options.

Risk factors include physical problems, widowhood, impaired functional status, educational attainment not higher than high school, and alcoholism.

Treatment

Around 83% of old people want to seek treatment for their depression. A variety of sound treatments are available for late-life depression. These include psychosocial interventions, psychotherapy, and/or pharmacological interventions. However, many barriers reduce the accessibility to treatment of geriatric depression: poor diagnosis, poor referral services in primary care, and lack of workforce in geriatric mental health industry.