Is Your Parent Depressed?
By Trisha Gura, PhD
7 million Americans over age 65 suffer from the disease, and many are not getting the help they need. Here’s how to make sure your mom or dad isn’t one of them.
Amy Caldwell first sensed that her mother was depressedduring a phone call last September. "My life is miserable," said the 77-year-old widow, who lives in Tempe, AZ, and suffers from asthma. "I don’t want to live any longer." Caldwell’s heart sank. Was this a genuine suicide threat? Caldwell, 43, who lives in Boston, decided not to take a chance and flew out to see her mom.
She set up appointments with a family physician and pulmonologist, who put her mother on a new regimen that eased her breathing problems for a couple of months. But then her mother suffered another attack and, during a dispiriting phone conversation with Caldwell’s brother, dropped another
bomb: "I should just get a razor, slit my wrists, and get this over with already."
This time, Caldwell’s brother hopped on a plane, while Caldwell contemplated the inescapable truth: In addition to the physical ailments her mother suffered from, she was very likely depressed.
That put her mom in the company of 2 million other Americans over age 65 who suffer from depression, as well as another 5 million who struggle with some but not all symptoms of the crippling disease. Their plight is one of the great hushed-up scandals of American health care:
As many as 90% of people suffering from depression in late life are not getting the care they need. The suicide rate in adults age 75 and older is a shocking 1 1/2 times the average–higher than that of any other group, including teenagers.
Elderly people receiving home care are twice as likely to suffer major depression as those in nursing homes. A whopping 78% of them receive no treatment at all. Patients diagnosed with major depression spend almost twice as much money on their health care as patients who don’t have the disease.