Depression in the Elderly

Diagnosing Depression in the Elderly

The first step in getting appropriate treatment is to visit a doctor. Certain medications taken for other medical conditions, vitamin B12 deficiency, some viruses, or a thyroid disorder can cause symptoms similar to depression. If an older adult is taking several medications for other conditions and is depressed, seeing a doctor is especially important.
A doctor can rule out medications or another medical condition as the cause of the depression by doing a complete physical exam, interview, and lab tests. If these other causes can be ruled out, he or she may refer you to a mental health professional, such as a psychologist, counselor, social worker, or psychiatrist. Some doctors, called geriatric psychiatrists, are specially trained to treat depression and other mental illnesses in older adults.
The doctor or mental health professional will ask about the history of your symptoms. A few of the questions he or she may ask include:
  • When your symptoms started
  • How long your symptoms have lasted, as well as their severity
  • Whether your symptoms have occurred before, and, if so, whether they were treated and how.
The healthcare provider will then diagnose the depression and work with you to choose the most appropriate treatment.

Treatment Options

Depression, even in its most severe form, is highly treatable. As with many illnesses, getting treatment early is more effective and reduces the chance of recurrence. And because it often co-occurs with other illnesses in older adults, untreated depression may delay recovery from other illnesses or make them worse. It is important to remember that a person with depression cannot simply "snap out of it."
Treatment choices differ for each person, and sometimes different treatments must be tried until one works. It is important to keep trying until you find something that works for you.
The most common forms of treatment for depression are medication (antidepressants) and psychotherapy ("talk therapy"). In cases of severe depression, healthcare providers may recommend electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). Some people may also try complementary or alternative treatments.
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