For many years, depression was considered a natural part of aging. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Depression and aging do not naturally occur together. In fact, if the signs and symptoms of depression are noticed in seniors they should be addressed immediately. Not only does depression reduce a senior’s quality of life, but recent studies have shown that it speeds up aging of the brain, problems with memory and thinking.
A study at the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom reviewed data from 71,000 participants who were clinically depressed but did not have dementia at the beginning of the study. It reviewed the rate of decline in overall cognition including things like “memory loss, executive function (such as decision making) and information processing speed.” The study discovered that seniors with depression experienced “…a greater decline in cognitive state than those without depression”.
Dr Darya Gaysina, one of the lead scientists conducting the study said the results show, “We need to protect the mental wellbeing of our older adults and to provide robust support services to those experiencing depression and anxiety in order to safeguard brain function in later life.”
A second study, conducted at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine found that depression can adversely impact thinking and memory. That study included 1,100 participants with an average age of 71. Twenty-two percent had symptoms of depression. When the study began, all the participants had brain scans, a mental health assessment, memory and thinking skills. The tests were repeated about five years later.
Researchers discovered that in those with more severe symptoms of depression:
- The brain structure was different than in those without depression.
- They scored lower on tests of episodic memory, (ability to remember specific experiences and events).
- They had smaller brain volume.
- They were 55 percent more likely to have small vascular lesions in the brain.
That’s powerful evidence of how depression can impair the brain’s function.
If you notice the signs and symptoms of depression in your loved one, take action. They can include, but are not limited to:
- Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood
- Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities
- Feelings of hopelessness, pessimism
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness
- Decreased energy, fatigue
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions
- Difficulty sleeping
- Appetite and/or unintended weight changes
- Thoughts of death or suicide, suicide attempts
- Restlessness, irritability
- Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause and/or that do not ease even with treatment
The good news is that there are steps that can be taken to address depression and prevent cognitive damage. First talk to your loved one’s physicians and relate the signs and symptoms you observe. Compare his or her current behavior to your loved one’s normal lifestyle and activities. The physician may refer your loved one to a specialist, such as a therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist for assessment and treatment.
Other effective treatments for depression include:
- Yoga and exercise
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
Brain health can be protected as we age. The brain needs to be cared for like every other part of the body. When it is ill, it needs appropriate treatment to lessen the symptoms and return it to good health. If you notice that your senior loved one is exhibiting the signs of depression, get help. The right treatment can reduce the symptoms, so they can age healthfully and gracefully.
If you or your family member is considering in-home care as part of a plan to age in place, contact Family Matters In-Home Care today for a free consultation. Our team is dedicated to supporting your family and helping older adults enjoy life in the comfort of their own home for as long as possible.
Some of the services offered by Family Matter In-Home Care include: Alzheimer’s & Dementia Care, Bed & Wheelchair Transfer Assistance, Companionship, Housekeeping & Meal Preparation, Personal Care, Recovery Care, and Transportation.