Media reports, often driven by pharmaceutical companies, would have the public believing there's an epidemic of clinical depression among virtually every population from children and teens to adults and seniors.
While there's no denying that the number of people suffering from depression is large and spans all ages, too many people with quite normal sadness brought on by grief, loneliness, or other situational issues are treated as if they have a permanent chemical imbalance.
Although antidepressant medications can make a person feel better regardless of the cause, there are healthier alternatives that both address the depression and help provide a much better overall quality of life.
David Forman, president of Visiting Angels, a home care company that helps seniors maintain their independence at home, says, "The vast majority of seniors suffering from depression are those living alone. Companionship for even a few hours a day can be as effective as antidepressant medications in helping someone through and beyond any period of pain and suffering.”
Forman agrees there's nothing wrong with the use of anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications for shorter-term treatment during periods of grief, but adding additional medication to a daily regimen of other medications is clearly not the best long-term solution.
“There's an important difference between simply living without anxiety and depression versus actually living with some amount of happiness, interest and joy,” says Forman. “Medications can mask our anxiety and pain, but they can't create new opportunities for a happier existence.”
His company, Visiting Angels, provides compassionate caregivers who help seniors and disabled adults with all activities of daily living such as personal care, light housekeeping, meal preparation, errands and transportation, and this helps people stay independent and safe at home. However, it’s the companionship Forman says his caregivers provide that really adds to a person’s joy in life.
“Just a few hours a day, or even a few hours a week, can make all the difference to somebody living alone, especially those who had a spouse or other companions throughout their lives,” says Forman.
Studies confirm the common-sense notion that loneliness significantly raises the risk of loss of physical functioning and earlier-than-expected death.
The New York Times recently published the details of a report from the Archives of Internal Medicine that showed over a period of six years, nearly 25 percent of seniors feeling isolated and lonely experienced a significant decline in their ability to perform activities of daily living: to bathe, dress, eat, toilet and get up from a chair or a bed on their own. Lonely older adults also were 45 percent more likely to die within this period than those who felt meaningfully connected with others.
Andrew Steptoe, director of the Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care at University College, London, has been studying this subject and said, “There is growing evidence that both loneliness and social isolation are related to biological processes that may increase health risk, including changes in immune and inflammatory processes and disruption of the stress-related hormones.”
Another study from Cornell University on the physiological effects of loneliness showed that the blood pressure of older people rises in reaction to some kinds of stress and that loneliness accentuates this response.
Forman says his employees are chosen not only for their experience and skills, but also for their compassion and kindness. “We listen to families’ needs and preferences and do our best to pair proper personality types, " he says.
It is also important to note that medical conditions and prescription medications can cause depression. According to helpguide.org, an online health and lifestyle resource, an illness may have depression as a symptom or be a psychological reaction to a chronic condition, especially if it is painful, disabling or terminal.
These include Parkinson's, stroke, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, thyroid disorders, vitamin deficiencies, Alzheimer’s, lupus and multiple sclerosis.
Medications that can cause or worsen depression include blood pressure meds; beta blockers; sleeping pills, including PM pain meds like AdvilPM or TylenolPM when used long term; anxiety meds such as Valium, Xanax and Halcion; calcium-channel blockers; medication for Parkinson's disease; ulcer medication, such as Zantac and Tagamet; heart drugs containing reserpine; steroids like cortisone and prednisone; high-cholesterol drug, such as Lipitor, Mevacor and Zocor; painkillers and arthritis drugs; and estrogens such as Premarin and Prempro. Those who feel depressed after starting a new medication should talk to their doctor, who may be able to lower the dose or switch to another medication that doesn’t impact mood.
Forman says his caregivers normally recognize symptoms of depression and can alert family members so it can be properly addressed. Call 302-329-9475 or go to visitingangels.com/sussexde.