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Expert Elder Care Guidance
Expert Elder Care Guidance
Can depression really cause someone to be placed in a nursing home?
A major study cited some pretty strong evidence that depression in the elderly, left untreated, can result in your parent needing to be admitted into a skilled nursing home. Dr. Yael Harris at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services studied 141,000 older people for nearly four years. Nearly 15 percent who reported that they “felt sad or depressed much of the time” were admitted to a nursing home. Diabetes and heart failure were the two most predictive conditions for a nursing home admission, while depression in the elderly came in third. Harris and his fellow researchers believe that depression has a negative effect on diseases that the older person may have, such as high blood pressure and heart disease. Depression is also linked to unhealthy lifestyles, such as poor diet, lack of sleep and alcoholism. No matter what the link, Harris and his colleagues argue that “appropriate identification and management of depression could prevent or postpone the use of nursing home services.”
Unfortunately, depression is one of the conditions most missed and under-diagnosed among the elderly, despite the fact that the National Institute of Mental Health estimates that one in five people over 60 suffers from some level of depression that requires medical intervention. Most don’t receive any kind of treatment.
It’s important that you understand depression so that you can identify it in your loved ones. Researchers have discovered that depression is linked to biochemical imbalances in the brain. Those affected by depression are intensely sad and are often unable to function, feel pleasure or maintain interest. The onset of depression might follow a recent loss or sad event, but the intensity of the feeling and its duration persist far beyond what is healthy. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) offers this checklist of symptoms of clinical depression:
If one of your parents exhibits these symptoms, get him or her to their family physician to rule out any other physical problems. Studies show that a combination of psychotherapy and carefully prescribed medications can be 80 percent successful in treating depression in the elderly. Antidepressants are powerful drugs, however, and they should be prescribed very carefully and in conjunction with other mental health services. You should also visit these two valuable online resources on depression: nimh.nih.gov and depression.org.
Unfortunately, people suffering from depression often think they’re just fine. For this reason, NIMH has created the “Before you say you’re fine check-list,” which encourages older people to ask themselves the following questions: Do you feel nervous or empty, guilty or worthless, very tired and slowed down, restless or irritable? Do you find that you don’t enjoy things the way you used to? Do you feel like no one loves you or like life is not worth living? If your parent is answering yes to these questions, he or she should share this information with the family physician and not let it slide.
Depression is not a normal part of aging. Ignoring its symptoms can complicate other health conditions and send your parents into a tailspin leading to premature nursing home care. It’s not something your mom or dad is simply going to “snap out of.” So, don’t look the other way. Bring up how you’ve noticed they haven’t been themselves and get them to answer the NIMH checklist. They might feel relieved knowing that what they are feeling isn’t normal and there is a biochemical reason for what they’re feeling. The good news is that their depression can be treated so they can get on with enjoying their life.
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