Feeling down occasionally is a normal part of life, but if these feelings last a few weeks or months, you may have depression. While depression affects everyone differently, depression in older adults can be caused by a variety of different issues.
When we think about depression, often we think about stressors related to somebody’s family or job. The holidays can be difficult when going through those stressors, especially related to the loss of a loved one. Depression in older adults is even more complicated and can be associated with medical illnesses, memory issues, stroke, or other changes to the blood vessels in the brain. When somebody is older and feeling depressed, it can help to be assessed by a specialist such as a geriatric psychiatrist who can take all those factors into account.
The UConn Center on Aging offers a Geriatrics and Healthy Aging location that offers primary and specialty care exclusively for our older patients. Our team of board-certified specialists and carefully curated services are focused entirely on providing the best comprehensive, coordinated healthcare for older adults. These services include one of the biggest divisions of geriatric psychiatry in the country.
Geriatric Psychiatrists complete a general adult psychiatry residency, but to become a geriatric psychiatrist there is an additional year of intensive training to help understand the complexities of mental health in older adults.
“One of the important themes at the Center on Aging is that your heart health is your brain health. Just like we worry about cardiovascular risk factors playing a role in the development of memory problems we also worry about cardiovascular risk factors playing a role in the development of depression too,” says Dr. Kristina Zdanys, associate professor of Psychiatry and co-director of the James E. C. Walker M.D. Memory Assessment Program at UConn Health.
Depression may present differently in older adults, who might not describe how they feel as “sad” or “down.” Some symptoms of depression in older adults could be changes in appetite or weight loss, social withdrawal, not engaging in activities they used to enjoy, having trouble focusing, sleeping too much or too little, or even sometimes experiencing anxiety and irritability.
As we head into the winter months, seasonal depression can affect both older and younger adults. Mood changes when the days are getting shorter coincide with the holiday season and can make getting through the holidays even more difficult.
A large part of seasonal depression is the lack of sunlight. You might be less active, not exercising, staying home a lot more or reducing your social contacts. These symptoms can be signs of depression or can worsen depression. In some cases, seasonal depression should be treated with medication. In other cases, seasonal depression can be treated with a light box therapy, psychotherapy, or activities to help people stay active and engaged even though the days are shorter.
When meeting with a geriatric psychiatrist at the Center on Aging for the first time, your doctor will listen to how you have been feeling and ask specific questions to understand what might be causing your symptoms. Your psychiatrist will also ask about your medical history and any medications you take. Bloodwork or other tests might be ordered to look for causes of your symptoms, like thyroid disease or vitamin deficiencies. A plan for treatment could include medications or a referral for psychotherapy. Your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes such as engaging in activities with others, exercising, improving sleep, or reducing alcohol intake.
For patients who have chronic medical and psychiatric conditions, have retired early, or on disability, the UConn Psychiatry Department offers the Silver Sage Geriatric Psychiatry Program, a comprehensive outpatient program that addresses the needs of patients who require a higher level of care than once-weekly appointments yet don’t meet the criteria for inpatient admission. The program meets three days a week, in person, and is comprised of group therapy sessions, weekly individual psychotherapy, and weekly medication management appointments. The program offers art therapy, CBT/DBT skills training, and other coping skills groups, allowing staff to tailor patients’ treatment schedules to meet their individual needs.
Depression is not a normal part of aging and can be treated. For more information visit the UConn Center on Aging or call 860-679-8400.
Our Geriatrics and Healthy Aging location is unique and unparalleled in New England. We offer primary and specialty care in one location. With most services provided on the first floor and close, convenient parking, it’s easier than ever to get the personalized care you need to stay healthy and active.