National Depression Screening Day is part of mental illness awareness week each October. This year, the event falls on Oct. 9, and not only is it a chance to raise awareness for the condition, but it's also a reminder that seniors should get checked for depression.
It's important to know that feeling depressed or experiencing the symptoms of this illness are not a normal part of growing older. It's certainly natural for people of all ages to have periods of sadness, especially when going through a major life event. However, symptoms that last more than two weeks and affect quality of life may be a sign that something more serious is happening.
Unfortunately, depression in people who are of retirement living age can be harder to detect because some of the most common symptoms could be confused with those of other illnesses, such as dementia, heart disease, Parkinson's, arthritis or Alzheimer's. Because of this, you may be suffering from more than one ailment but not realize it, leaving the depression untreated.
The National Alliance of Mental Illness noted that more than 6.5 million adults in the U.S. age 65 and older are affected by depression. Some people may have been experiencing episodes throughout their whole lives while others may not have had a problem until they are in their later years. In either case, it's important to get screened if you think you might be depressed, in order to receive the proper care and treatment. You wouldn't hesitate to see a doctor for a cold or flare of arthritis, and your mental health should be treated the same.
Some of the most common symptoms of senior depression
No interest in appearance: You might be depressed if you've developed a lack of self regard. For men and women who've stopped putting effort into their appearance, they may be experiencing issues with depression.
Insomnia: Sleep issues are not uncommon among older adults. Perhaps you've just moved into a new retirement community and are still adjusting. But know that sleep issues affect seniors for a variety of reasons, so depression as the root cause may be overlooked. If you begin to experience more sleepless nights, you may want to consider getting screened.
Social isolation: If you've been canceling plans with friends or loved ones, spending all of your time alone indoors or have been avoiding fun activities in your community, it can be a sign of depression. You might feel lonely, which can escalate into depression. This could prohibit you from rectifying the situation.
Higher levels of pain: It's not uncommon for seniors to experience pain as the result of many conditions, but did you know that depression could be one of them? It's a common myth that depression affects only the mind, when the truth is that this mental illness causes physical symptoms as well. Being depressed can amplify pain, according to the Mayo Clinic, so if you've been hurting more than usual and you can't figure out why, it might be a good idea to get a depression screening.
Increased irritability: Depression can cause mood swings, so if you've been irritated by small things that normally wouldn't annoy you or if you're usually a much happier person who's now cranky all the time, you might be experiencing a symptom of depression.
Recovery: It's not uncommon for older adults recovering from surgery or a major illness to experience an episode of depression. This is certainly a traumatic life event that may cause additional stress or concern, and your mind may have trouble handling the situation. If this is the case, you may become depressed if your recovery is going slower than you'd like or if you're missing aspects of your pre-recovery life.