During the past several months, I have been hired to find senior living options for many clients who have been diagnosed with depression. Some of them have been at the independent living level of care. I was fortunate to sit down with several of my clients and find out what it is like to have the disease. I must admit that I have a new sympathy for anyone with the diagnosis.
Depression is a disease that is characterized by feelings of sadness and at times uselessness that affect an individual’s ability to function. The causes aren’t known, but some of the things that are thought to to cause it are changes in the brain, family history, environment, and life’s experiences. For example, senior’s become very depressed after the loss of a spouse. During the holidays, the depression often intensifies as the senior further contemplates the loss of a loved one.
My clients have shared that they often feel tired, restless, irritable, worthless, and have trouble sleeping. On the other hand, they may sleep too much or overeat. They also experience symptoms like a stomach ache that won’t go away, excessive crying, strange thoughts and thoughts of suicide. No one’s symptoms are ever the same. The depression can also be masked by other illnesses for which the senior has already been diagnosed and is taking medications.
In addition, my clients have all experienced the different types of depression. The first is major which basically disables a person so that they cannot function normally. A person may have one or more episodes of major depression in their lifetime. Dysthymic depression can sometime last as long as a couple of years but it isn’t serious enough to disable a person. Minor depression can last for 2 weeks or more but isn’t serious enough to be classified as major, but it can impede a person from functioning normally. If it isn’t treated it can turn into major depression. Bipolar depression includes huge mood swings from being elated to completely down in the dumps.
Many of my clients are taking the new SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) and SNRI (Serotonin Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors) medications in order to impact the neurotransmitters (chemicals) in their brains which include serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. However, my clients report that the drugs don’t take away the depression, they only lessen it. The drugs are taken in combination with psychotherapy (talk therapy) and visits with a psychologist two times a week. Even with treatment, I have also been told that the depression goes away for a while. Then it comes back in the form of a physical pain, which is also emotional pain. Sometimes thoughts of suicide manifest themselves. I was also told that emotional illness isn’t the same as mental illness. A psychologist will always ask a patient how they feel. A good psychologist will try to pinpoint negative feelings and take action to correct them, and not necessarily the negative thoughts.
What seems to help my clients the most? Socialization in combination with the treatments I have mentioned above. One individual mentioned that there is a dinner group of fellow patients that has been meeting for close to twenty years. Just having someone to talk to, like me, is a big help. In other words, anything that keeps their minds from wandering into the wrong places is a huge relief. Trying to engage in some sort of employment has also been very helpful. However, many of my clients are retired professionals who had to give up their positions because the depression caused severe lack of concentration that impede them from doing their jobs. Unfortunately, they have to rely on social security disability income which is a mere pittance by comparison to their once substantial salaries. As one client summarized, “It ruins your career, social life, and sex life!” Need I say more?