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Managing Depression, Anxiety and Insomnia in Old Age

Dr. Beena Thomas

Mental diseases are common in the old age due to a feeling of worthlessness, loneliness, attitude of the family members and many other socio-economic factors. Depression and anxiety are the most common mental problems in the aged but they can be well taken care of with the support of the family members and holistic therapies such as homoeopathy.

Old age is a part of life and like any other age group, old age can be accompanied with certain abnormal conditions. All these conditions can be treated if proper care and timely treatment is given. Some of the mental problems encountered during this period are discussed with its management and prevention.

What is depression?
There are two types of depression. The first includes occasional periods of feeling emotionally discouraged or irritable. This kind of depression is usually short lived, lasting from a few hours to a few days. Nearly everyone experiences this from time to time.

The second type of depression is more serious. It is characterised by symptoms that persist over an extended period of two weeks or more.

Symptoms of a Patient suffering from an Episode of Severe Depression
Symptoms of depression include lethargy, insomnia or sleeping more than usual, fatigue, difficulty with concentration and memory, chronic unexplained aches and pains, appetite disorders, anxiety and a general lack of interest in day to day living that does not abate over time. People with depression might feel mildly down in the dumps or unable even to get out of bed. More progressed can prompt thoughts of suicide.

Is Feeling Depressed a Normal Part of Growing Older?
It is easy to think that feelings of depression in an older person are due to physical illness or life events such as loss of loved ones. But ''being down in the dumps'' with little joy or pleasure from life is not normal. Older persons without depression are able to bounce back from adversity and maintain a zest for living; however, when people remain depressed for more than a week or two, the reason may be a treatable illness.

What are the Risk Factors for Suicide in Older Persons?
Thoughts of death are not abnormal for older people. However, people who feel hopeless, helpless or that life is a burden, are at an increased risk for suicide. Persons who have recently experienced a loss or bereavement, a new physical illness, who are living alone or are socially isolated, or who drink alcohol, may be at an increased risk. Giving away possessions, or making casual comments about not being around, may indicate a need for further assessment.

Common Signs of Depression
Because an older person suffering from depressive illness may deny feeling sad or depressed, friends and family should watch for the following symptoms of depressive disorder:

  • Loss of interest in self care and/or following medical advice
  • Little interest in social activities
  • Feeling ''empty'' inside
  • Trouble sleeping and/or anxiety
  • Trouble concentrating or remembering things
  • Unexplained aches and pains
  • Change in appetite and weight
  • Feeling hopeless about the future
  • Feelings of helplessness
  • Easily irritated and/or listless
  • Feeling that one is a burden
When to Seek Professional Help for Depression?
It is common for a person to feel depressed from time to time. It's a normal human emotion when, say, one loses a job, or a loved one dies. But when these feelings and other unexplained causes of grief don't life over a time, a person should seek professional help.

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