Reed V. Tuckson, MD, is Executive Vice President and Chief of Medical Affairs at UnitedHealth Group. A Fellow of the American College of Physicians, Dr. Reed is a nationally recognized speaker on preventive health and clinical medicine.
Q: Dear Dr. Reed:
My husband is 72 years old, and recently had a decline in his health. He has been more irritable and keeps to himself these days. He’s also been having problems sleeping and is somewhat forgetful. I’m worried about him. What is Depression? Are there things I should be doing to help him?
A: Great questions! Mental status changes in the elderly are often of great concern and are a source of confusion for family members. It is sometimes difficult to distinguish between the behaviors associated with Dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and Depression in the elderly. While the first two of these are more commonly considered, many people don’t know that, just as when we are younger, older people can also become depressed.
The more common signs of depression in the elderly include feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, anxiousness and worry, irritability, loss of feelings of pleasure, forgetfulness and lack of interest in personal care. Distinguishing depression from Dementia or Alzheimer’s can be tricky since some of the symptoms, like forgetfulness and difficulty with concentration, overlap. The best course of action is to have the person seen by their health professional, so that a more thorough individual analysis may be completed to distinguish if this is indeed Depression or changes associated with Dementia, side effects from medication(s), or the results associated with another illness.
The good news is that there are interventions that can make a difference, so action on your part is important.
Do you have questions about your health? There is so much information out there that it can be hard to make sense of it all and, more importantly, apply it in our own lives. Dr. Reed Tuckson, Executive Vice President and Chief of Medical Affairs at UnitedHealth Group, hears this all the time as he travels the country speaking about preventive healthcare and clinical medicine and talking to readers of the “Ask Dr. Reed Q&A” column or his book, The Doctor in the Mirror. Dr. Reed cannot provide individual responses but he may address your idea in a future column, which you can read right here on Facebook. If you are seeking personal advice, please consult your doctor, specialist, or nurse.