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Depression and the Elderly

Depression and the Elderly

With retirement on the horizon, Marcia researched volunteer opportunities and found the perfect position at her local library. At first, the 68 year old enjoyed her “second career.” She was excited to be part of a new team, and enjoyed interacting with the staff and patrons. As the months passed, though, Marcia grew unexplainably weary. She barely engaged in conversation and seemed sullen. When asked if she was okay, she often responded that she felt “off” and attributed it to adjusting to retirement. But her downward spiral continued, eventually reaching the point where she didn’t want to get out of bed and would cry often.

Marcia is one of the nearly 6.5 million Americans age 65 and older affected by depression. Many members of this population, and their friends and family, falsely assume that depression is a normal part of aging. Feelings of sadness and grief in reaction to major changes faced later in life or to the current climate due to the pandemic are common, yet temporary. Clinical depression, however, lasts much longer and doesn’t diminish without treatment.

A number of factors contribute to depression in the senior population. Some cases are triggered by biological changes in brain structure or function or related to genetics. Other cases may be the result of side effects of medication. Gender plays a role, too. Women are twice as likely as men to suffer from depression.

“For some seniors, the onset of depression may be caused by the development of a disabling illness, loss of a spouse or close friend, retirement, loss of independence, or other stressful life event,” says Marianne Kennelly, BSN, RN, NE-BC, Director of Ramapo Ridge Behavioral Health (RRBH).

Symptoms of depression are sometimes mistakenly associated as symptoms of chronic illnesses common later in life, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, and arthritis. Left untreated, though, depression among seniors increases the risk for cognitive decline and physical illnesses.

Both Marcia and her husband recognized that she needed professional help, especially since her father had suffered from depression. She was admitted to RRBH.

RRBH combines clinical excellence with compassionate care that is a hallmark of Christian Health. This 58-bed inpatient psychiatric hospital for adult and geriatric patients is licensed by the State of New Jersey, deemed status accreditation by The Joint Commission (TJC), and accepts both voluntary and involuntary patients. An interdisciplinary team, guided by Christian Health’s Person- and Family-centered Care philosophy, develops individualized treatment plans. Faith integration is incorporated into treatment, when requested. Admissions are accepted 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Additionally, TJC awarded RRBH the distinction of Disease-specific Care Certification for Dementia. RRBH is the only hospital in NJ and one of only three in the nation to earn this distinction.

“The good news is that depression is highly treatable. Seventy to 80 percent of seniors can be cured through early diagnosis and proper treatment,” Ms. Kennelly says. “Appropriate care can greatly reduce the severity of the illness, not only for the senior, but for his or her family and friends, too. Their support is crucial. Their understanding, patience, and encouragement contribute to recovery.”

Through care at RRBH, Marcia improved significantly. She is once again enthusiastically volunteering at the library.

“Christian Health’s 110-year history and focused commitment to the mental health of our community sets us apart in our abilities to deliver exceptionally compassionate care for seniors, and people of all ages,” Ms. Kennelly says. “We recognize the need not only to provide effective, compassionate treatment for mental illness, but to also educate our communities about mental disorders, signs and symptoms, and where to turn for help.”