Recognizng depression can be tricky because depressive symptoms manifest themselves differently in older people than they do in younger people. Health care workers need to be alert to the signs and symptoms of depression because untreated depression represents the greatest risk factor for suicide among older adults.
Many people may believe that depression in older adults is simply a normal event that most people go through at one time or another; and that there is no real reason to be alarmed. It might be thought that these individuals should accept sad feelings and disinterest in life as a typical part of growing older. Nevertheless, depression is a very real disorder, and not just one that comes with age. Depressed individuals often cannot just 'snap out of' the problems they are facing. All too often, older adults end up taking their own lives when their depression becomes too painful for them and remains untreated (Brent, et al, 1997).
Older adults have the highest rate of suicide in the United States, with over half of all suicides occurring in adult men, aged 25-65. Moreover, suicide rates steadily increase with age (Heisel, 2004). The rate of suicide among people 65 years and older is 50% higher than the national average. A senior citizen in the United States commits suicide every 90 minutes. Clearly, this is a problem that must not be ignored, particularly among older adults who are disproportionately impacted.
Although older adults currently make up only 13% of the population, they suffer 19% of all suicide deaths. Persons who are 65 years and older have the highest suicide rates of any age group, and 84% of those who commit suicide are men. Population experts estimate that by 2030, older adults will comprise about 20% of the population, or about 75 million people. Thus, the problem of suicide, if left unaddressed, can be expected to increase. Heisel (2004) states, "There is a pressing need to identify vulnerability and protective factors associated with late-life suicidal ideation and behavior in order to inform assessment and treatment considerations with seniors at risk of suicide" (p. 50). Anyone working with elderly peopleolder adults must be aware of the scope of the problem and the potential ways to help.
It is important, therefore, to evaluate ways to reduce the risks posed by depression in older adults, particularly the risk of suicide. With that goal in mind, this paper will examine the prevalence of depression among older adults, diagnosis, treatment, and risk factors for suicide. It will briefly examine depression's long history. Also, the literature dealing with various approaches to treatment of depression will be reviewed. Ultimately, this paper will thoroughly explore the question of why older adults choose to take their own lives.
Diagnosis of Disorder
Virtually everyone is sad from time to time, and this is generally not a cause for alarm. In many cases, a temporary negative change in mood is brought on by some specific loss, and corrects itself within a reasonable period of time. Losses late in life tend to become more common. For example, as people get older, they will likely know more