The Royal College of Psychiatrists has identified that depression in the elderly is “the next big public health problem”. New research conducted by the Chinese University of Hong Kong suggests that GPs wrongly assume that being elderly is, in itself, a miserable experience. They do not consider the possibility of depression being an issue for older patients.
In fact, older people may have more reasons to feel down – for example, they are often dealing with health problems, the death of a partner or friends, stopping work and getting lonely. And whilst most people will cope well in spite of these difficulties, depression can affect 1 in 5 older people living in the community and 2 in 5 living in care.
However, the good news is that steps are being taken to improve diagnosis of depression in older people.
GPs, health workers and carers are being urged to ask two simple questions to determine whether an older patient could be depressed. The questions are:
“In the past month, have you been troubled by feeling down, depressed or hopeless?” And “Have you experienced little interest or pleasure in doing things?”
If the answer to one or both questions is “Yes” the Royal College of Psychiatrists recommends a formal assessment by a GP.
Samuel Wong of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, who led the study, said: “The two-questions screen is simple and reliable.” The study reported that these simple questions picked up 92% of those with depression.
Once diagnosed, older people with depression can be given support and treatment, improving their quality of life. About 60% of older people with depression recover after a course of talking therapy, compared with less than 50% of younger patients.
Of course, one of reasons it is more difficult to identify older people who might be suffering from depression is a reluctance on the part of the patients themselves to consider their mental health, and to accept help if there is a problem. The stoical generation often suffer in silence.
The important message is that depression does happen – and it can be treated. Treatment does not have to be taking medication but can also involve talking therapies.
If you are concerned that you or someone you know might be suffering from depression, help may be found at: