Older People with Depression are Ignored or Misdiagnosed

Medical Reviewer

Millions of older people may be denied proper treatment for depression on the assumption that depression is a natural part of getting older. The U.K. based charity Age Concern has found a culture of casual disregard towards people over the age of 65 when it comes to their mental health needs.

Gordon Lishman, director general of Age Concern states, "fewer than 10 percent of older people with clinical depression are referred to specialist mental health services compared with about 50 percent of younger adults with mental and emotional problems."

In cases where the family doctor is sensitive to the mental health needs of the elderly they can find problems referring their patients to specialists within the National Health Service because current rules exclude people over the age of 65. According to the Age Concern report a more typical scenario is for the over 65s to find themselves misdiagnosed, given inappropriate treatment or simply fobbed off.

Depression in older adults is something that needs to be taken more seriously. People are living longer and there are indications that rates of depression increase in old age. Some research indicates that late-life onset of depression (age 85 and over) may be a time of increased risk.

Advocates have long expressed concerns over the misunderstandings that frequently accompany older adults. Loss of motivation, lack of energy, poor concentration and memory are all signs of depression that would quickly be observed in younger people. In older people there is a very real danger that such signs are viewed as an inevitable part of growing old, despite the fact that rates of suicide are high in older people. If depression is associated with social isolation, which typically occurs after the death of a spouse, the risk of suicide increases.

In Britain, the charity Help the Aged are pushing to end the issues of health discrimination that currently exist with the health services. "Older people deserve better treatment-there should be no excuse for inaction. The Government and the NHS need to take action to stamp out ageist attitudes and practice, once and for all." Lishman said. The charity has launched a new campaign, 'Down but not Out' to improve the lives of older people with depression.