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5 Facts To Know About Depression

Depression, a serious and potentially life-threatening condition, affects 14.8 million American adults, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The percentage of seniors who have the disorder varies from less than 1 percent to 5 percent, the CDC says. But the percentage rises sharply to 11.5 percent among elderly hospital patients to 13.5 percent among those who have home health care.
The condition is complex and multi-faceted, encompassing both physical and mental symptoms, and for a patient or caregiver it’s essential to know as much as possible about it. Here from the SeniorHealth division of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), are some lesser-known yet crucial facts about depression:

THERE’S MORE THAN ONE TYPE OF DEPRESSION

According to the SeniorHealth experts, major depressive disorder, also called major depression or clinical depression, is characterized by a combination of symptoms that interfere with your ability to work, sleep, concentrate, eat, and enjoy activities you once liked. Major depression keeps a person from functioning normally.

Dysthymic disorder, or dysthymia, is less severe but sometimes lasts longer. The condition, which has many of the same symptoms as depression lasts at least two years. It may also affect normal functioning in daily life.

Subsyndromal depression, affecting many older adults, is a milder form of the illness that includes similar, but less severe, symptoms that are found in major depression of dysthymia. However, the SeniorHealth experts say, having this condition may increase the risk of developinig more a more serious case of depression.

Psychotic depression occurs when a person has severe depression plus psychosis, such as delusions or hallucinations.

Bipolar depression. also called manic-depressiveness, is less common than major depression or dysthymia. People who suffer from bipolar disorder alter from extreme highs to extreme lows in mood.

DEPRESSION IS A BRAIN DISORDER

Although many people who don’t understand depression will urge sufferers to “snap out of it,” it is far from that simple. Depression is not weakness or a lack of willpower. Imaging technologies show that the brains of people with depression look different or are working differently than those who aren’t depressed. According to the SeniorHealth experts, areas of the brain that control moods, thinking, sleep, appetite, and behavior don’t seem to be functioning well. Additionally, the experts say, there may be very low or very high levels of crucial brain chemicals., However, much research remains to be done on exactly why depression occurs.

OTHER CONDITIONS MAY CO-EXIST WITH DEPRESSION

The SeniorHealth experts say that depression often occurs in conjunction with heart attack or stroke. It can also co-occur, they say, with diabetes, cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and other serious medical illnesses. Sometimes the two conditions (depression and illness) make each other worse. Additionally, medicines taken for the two conditions may have Depression may make these conditions worse, and vice versa. Sometimes, medications taken for these illnesses can cause side effects that contribute to depression.

RESEARCHERS ARE LOOKING FOR BETTER WAYS TO HELP SENIORS WITH DEPRESSION

Several studies are focusing on how seniors can get better access to depression treatment, according to SeniorHealth. One program is developing an education and intervention program to help primary providers identify late-life depression. Another study found that depressed older adults who had a “care manager” monitor their symptoms, side effects, and progress got better more quickly and completely than those who didn’t have such help. Still other projects are investigating how to encourage older adults to follow depression treatment plans, delivering treatment to homebound seniors or those who live in rural areas and preventing patients with mild depression from progression to a more severe version. On the medical front, scientists are looking at possible physical links between depression and other illnesses and producing a faster response to treatment.

THE SIDE EFFECTS OF ANTIDEPRESSANTS VARY FROM PERSON TO PERSON AND MEDICINE TO MEDICINE

The experts from SeniorHealth say the most common side effects of antidepressants are headache, nausea, sleeplessness, nervousness and sexual problems. Most of the time, these side effects are mild and temporary. But if they become persistent or severe, or interfere with normal functioning, tell your doctor immediately. As always, the NIH experts say to talk to your doctor about any potentially adverse interactions that could occur between antidepressants and any medicine you are already taking.

For more information on senior health issues, visit NIH Senior Health.