In the first part of our series on geriatric depression, Soumi Basu delves into the causes triggering depression in the elderly.
‘In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.
Ageing is not just an inevitable biological process; it brings with it a host of other changes. Having to cope with these changes and lack of understanding make the elderly prone to
depression. But the good news is that depression is not irreversible.
An understanding of depression is very crucial to fighting depression because it affects mood, perception and behaviour. It also triggers chemical reactions in the body that lowers the immune system and the desire to live. Prolonged sadness, crying spells, anxiety, frustration, irritability and unreasonable fears could be symptoms of depression. According to renowned psychiatrist Dr Anjali Chabbria, depression is often symbolised by a ‘loss of interest or the ability to experience any pleasure and a withdrawal from usual activities.’ Feelings of worthlessness, guilt, self-reproach, sleep disturbance, fatigue, loss of appetite, difficulty in concentrating and taking decisions, preoccupation with physical health, thoughts of death and an overall pessimistic attitude are some of the traits associated with depression.
There are many triggers of geriatric depression. Loneliness and social isolation is perhaps the most common cause. As Dr Chabbria says, ‘Loss of a loved one can be very traumatic and painful. Some may not be able to cope or get out of this trauma and it may lead to geriatric depression.’ The sense of loss can be caused by the death of spouse, geographical and mental separation from adult children or conflict in family relationships.
Difficulty in accepting the physical changes associated with ageing is another cause of depression in the elderly. There can be a feeling of growing frustration and hopelessness with prolonged medical sickness and/or disabilities. Increasing medication can lead to a feeling of depression. Inability to independently manage daily activities and chores of living, along with reduced mobility, may give rise to a feeling of dependence and hopelessness. Genetic predisposition and/or chemical imbalance in the body are also significant causes of depression.
Retirement from professional life can bring with it a sense of redundancy. Often there is no clear purpose in life—nothing to get up for in the morning. This lack of purpose or a daily routine can lead to a feeling of inadequacy and frustration. The feeling of being unable to fit into a rapidly changing world adds to the feelings of anxiety and withdrawal. Financial stress from the loss of a regular income after retirement, especially if it comes with a significant lowering of living standards can be a mental setback.
The best part is that very often, just a few small changes are enough to start the climb back to mental and emotional wellbeing. Continue reading here to find the way back to the eternal summer of a happy mind.