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Gainesville Florida Estate Planning & Elder Law Blog

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Senior Holiday Season Depression

As a caregiver, with the holiday season here, you may be spending more time with older loved ones. As a result, you may notice behavioral changes that are all too common this time of year.

Some of the common things you may see include less physical activity, fatigue or sadness. In fact, while there was a time they loved the holiday season, your senior may demonstrate a total lack of interest this year.

Of the 35 million Americans age 65 or older, about 2 million suffer from depression, while an additional 5 million may be experiencing less severe forms of the illness, according to a report from the National Institutes of Health. With those numbers accounting for 20 percent of the senior population, there’s a good chance you may be seeing it in your loved one.

Depression in the elderly is often not treated because it is difficult to diagnose and commonly confused with mental illness, dementia or malnutrition. And many seniors will not accept the idea that they may be depressed.

It is not really the holidays that cause depression in seniors but the memories of better times that are associated with this time of year. That may be especially true if they’ve lost a loved one in the last year or moved to a new environment. Depression may also be an indication of another medical problem. So while they may not admit they are depressed, a visit to the doctor may be appropriate to determine if there is another issue.

And what looks like depression may actually be dementia. There are differences. With depression there is generally a more rapid mental decline, but memory of time, date and awareness of the environment is not impacted. Movement may become an issue as well.

If it is the onset of dementia, your loved one may be experiencing a slower mental decline that includes confusion and loss of recognizing familiar locations.  

Whether it is depression or dementia, prompt treatment is recommended. A physical exam will help determine if there is a medical cause for depression. And there are exams to determine if it is the onset of dementia.

If it is determined to be depression, a treatment plan can be established. That plan may be something as simple as more frequent visits, or it could involve anti-depressant medication. There are treatment plans for dementia as well that may include prescription medications. What’s important is that as a caregiver or family member you get involved quickly.

So, as always, enjoy this time of year with your family, but also be very aware of changes in your older loved ones.


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