The geriatric population, defined as men and women 65 years and older, is the fastest growing population in the world. Little attention has been given to the mental health of the aging, and often treatable disorders are overlooked entirely. Depression is one of the leading mental disorders in any age group, but among the elderly, it is often viewed as a normal part of aging. But it’s not. Depression at any age requires attention and treatment.
Depression in Later Life is a go-to guide that introduces readers to depression among the aging and elderly. It looks at both sufferers who’ve been diagnosed in their younger years as well as those with a new diagnosis, and reviews the symptoms, the diagnostic process, treatment options including alternative and holistic approaches, and long-term care for those experiencing mild, moderate, or severe depression. With real stories throughout, the book illustrates the many forms depression can take, and Dr. Serani offers a compassionate voice alongside practical advice for sufferers, caregivers, and families.
What is Late-Life Depression?
I know depression because I’ve endured it my entire life. I had it as a child and it worsened as I became a teenager. And it still lingers in the margins of my life at age 55. For me, depression was a chronic illness that left me in despair and frighteningly unaware of its grinding misery. I didn’t recognize the symptoms – and neither did any family or friends. In fact, as my depression worsened as a college student, I sank into a featureless existence, either awake in a fatigued haze or sleeping the entire day away. Gradually, the bitter brine of depression flooded my mind with hopelessness. I didn’t care about the future and I couldn’t find purpose in the present. It didn’t occur to me that anything was out-of-sorts, short-sighted or even peculiar as my thinking became more corrosive. When I attempted suicide at age 19 with a handgun, it felt right. It felt comforting.
Of course, looking back, I was in deep emotional and physical pain and believed I found a way to make it stop. But it wasn’t a healthy choice. I was making a decision from an incredibly distorted reality. Luckily my plan was interrupted and I immediately got help. I began intensive psychotherapy and discovered that I’d been living with dysthymic disorder and that it escalated into a major depressive episode. Having both these disorders was called a double depression, and I learned how to replace the quiet agony of my illness with tools to live a more meaningful life. The experience I had with talk therapy was so life-changing and life-saving that it inspired me to become a psychologist. I combined my personal experiences with depression with my training as a clinician and became an expert in mood disorders. I realized that my personal experiences with depression offered enormous insight to those who sought treatment with me because I know the talk and I walk the walk.
In the 45 years of personally living with depression and the 25 years of professionally treating it as a disorder, this is what I’ve learned:
Depression doesn’t care if you’re rich or famous, poor or homeless.
It doesn’t care if you’re young or old.
Or if you’re ordinary or superlatively gifted.
Depression cuts across social economic status, is found in every culture and in every country around the world.
Depression will drape its chokehold over men, women and children - and thinks nothing of how it decays your mind, siphons your soul and crushes the glimpse of possibility, hope and freedom at every turn.
Depression is not an experience that fades with the next sunrise or can be shaken off with a newfound attitude. It won’t be cured by tough-love. Or rectified by ignoring it. You can’t snap out of it or will it away either. And if you try to minimize its wrenching hold on your health, it’ll root itself even deeper. Depression can’t be ranked alongside adjectives like blue, sad, dejected, down, melancholy or unhappy. Those words just won’t do… because they don’t even come close to describing what depression feels like.
Depression demands you to see it for what it truly is – an illness. And while it’s a serious illness, it is treatable. The key to success in living with depression is early identification, consistent treatment and planning to manage your illness.
Depression is a complex illness that significantly impacts the way you feel, think and behave. According to the World Health Organization, depression involves feelings of worthlessness, decreased energy, hopelessness, poor concentration, negative thinking and disrupted sleeping and eating patterns, just to name a few. The most predominant of these symptoms is a depressed mood, and because of this, depression is classified as a mood disorder. Sometimes called affective disorders, mood disorders are the most common mental illness, touching over a hundred million people worldwide. Mood disorders aren’t the result of a weakness of character, laziness or a person’s inability to buck up and be strong. Mood disorders are a real medical condition.
The Geriatric Population
It’s important to know that depression can occur at any age, but in this book, we’re looking at depression in later life. Specifically, the geriatric population - which are individuals 65 years of age and older. Sometimes referred to as seniors or the elderly, geriatric citizens are the fastest growing population in the world. In America, alone, the baby boomer generation now makes up over 50 million of the senior population. With people living longer, and the combination of medical advances and technology improving the state of healthcare, the senior population is expected to soar to 72 million by the year 2030. More specifically, The US Census Bureau reports that in the next 45 years, people over the age 65 will double, and people over the age 85 will triple. And now more than ever, centenarians, people 100 years of age and older, are not just reaching these amazing ages, but living richly textured lives.
While gerontology, the study of the aging process in human beings, has brought insights about the physical, emotional and social needs of this population, little has been done to train geriatric health professionals. In fact, 97% of medical school students have no training in geriatrics, and the rate of doctors graduating with a geriatrician degree are lower now than ten years ago.
Even geriatric psychology, or geropsychology, the specialty that focuses on the mental health of the elderly, isn’t gaining the kind of traction needed to help those living in their golden years.
This makes identifying and treating depression in later life difficult. But with the help you get in Depression in Later Life, you'll be equipped to see the early warning signs and know where to get help.
About the Author
Dr. Deborah Serani is a psychologist in practice over 25 years, an associate adjunct professor at Adelphi University and a TEDx speaker on the subject of depression. She is also a go-to expert on psychological issues. Dr. Serani is the author of the award-winning books, Living with Depression, Depression and Your Child: A Guide for Parents and Caregivers and Depression in Later Life: An Essential Guide published by Rowman & Littlefield.