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Signs of Depression in Older Adults

Depression is more than just feeling sad from time to time. It’s a serious mental health issue that can be treated. It can cause severe symptoms that affect your entire life including how you think, feel, and handle day-to-day activities such as sleeping and eating.

Depression is a legitimate illness. It’s not something you can just “shake off” one day, and it doesn’t mean that you’re weak or that you lack willpower. It’s important to know the signs of depression in older adults so you can find the treatment you need. 

Types of Depression

According to the National Institute on Aging (NIA), there are several types of depression. The most common types of depression are major depression and persistent depressive disorder.

  • Major depression involves severe symptoms that affect your ability to work, sleep, study, eat, and find joy in life. A person may experience an episode of major depression only once, however, multiple episodes are more common.
  • Persistent depressive disorder is a depressed mood that lasts for two years or more. A person diagnosed with persistent depressive disorder may have episodes of major depression with periods of less severe symptoms in between.

Other forms of depression include Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), psychotic depression, and postpartum depression.

Signs and Symptoms of Depression in Older Adults

It might be difficult to recognize depression in older adults because they may show different symptoms than younger adults. For example, sadness is not the main symptom for some older adults. They may have less obvious symptoms of depression like restlessness, or they may not be willing to talk about their feelings. Doctors may be less likely to recognize that you have depression.

Sometimes older people who are depressed feel tired, have trouble sleeping, or seem irritable. Sometimes the attention problems that depression can cause look like Alzheimer’s disease or other brain disorders. Older adults may have medical conditions such as heart disease, stroke, or cancer, which may cause symptoms of depression. Certain medications can also have side effects that contribute to depression.

There are many symptoms associated with depression, and they can vary from person to person. If you have any of the following symptoms for more than two weeks, you may have depression. Symptoms of depression can include: 

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood
  • Feelings of hopelessness, guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • Irritability 
  • Restlessness
  • Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Fatigue or a lack of energy
  • Talking or moving slower
  • Difficulty focusing, remembering, and/or making decisions
  • Difficulty sleeping, waking up in the early morning, or oversleeping
  • Unplanned weight gain or loss
  • Suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts, or thoughts of death
  • Aches or pains including headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause and/or that do not ease with treatment
  • Frequent crying

Depression Risk Factors

Several factors can contribute to depression including: 

Genetic factors: People who have a family history of depression may be more likely to develop it than people whose families do not have a history of the disease.

Personal history: Older adults who had depression when they were younger are more at risk for developing depression later in life than people who did not have the illness earlier in life.

Brain chemistry: People with depression may have different brain chemistry than people who do not have the disease.

Stress: Situations such as the loss of a loved one or a difficult relationship can trigger depression.

Age: Depression can occur because of the changes that happen as you age. For example, some older adults have a condition called ischemia, which means restricted blood flow. With ischemia, the brain may not get the blood it needs to function. A condition called vascular depression can result, which also puts the person at risk for heart attack, stroke, or other hematologic disorders.

Depression can co-occur with other serious medical conditions such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and Parkinson’s disease. Depression can make these conditions worse. Sometimes medications taken for these physical illnesses can cause side effects that contribute to depression. Your doctor may be able to help find the best course of treatment with the fewest side effects.

What Caregivers Need to Know About Depression

It can be difficult to detect depression in your loved one. For example, grieving after the loss of a loved one is normal, and it oftentimes doesn’t require professional mental health treatment according to the National Institutes of Health

If you notice that your loved one has signs and symptoms of depression, make an appointment with the doctor. Know what questions to ask your loved one’s doctor and go into your doctor prepared with notes about: 

  • Any symptoms your loved one has even if they unrelated to the reason for your appointment. Write down when their symptoms started, the severity of symptoms, if they’ve occurred before, and the treatment for the symptoms.
  • Key personal information such as any major stresses or recent life changes
  • All medications, vitamins, or other supplements that your loved one takes. Be sure to include the medication’s dosage and the frequency at which your loved one takes them

Caregivers Can Also Experience Depression

It may be easy to forget about yourself when you spend so much time and energy on your loved one. Caregivers can experience depression, too. According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, many people with symptoms of depression don’t think they’re depressed. Caregivers may have unique concerns when it comes to their own depression including:

  • Dementia caregivers experience depression at higher rates. People who care for loved ones with dementia are twice as likely to suffer from depression than other caregivers. Dementia caregivers spend more time with their loved ones than other caregivers, and they may experience the following issues:  
    • Employment problems
    • Stress
    • Physical and mental health issues
    • Sleep deprivation
    • Less time to do the things they enjoy
    • Less time with other family members
    • Increased family conflict
  • Women experience depression at higher rates than men: According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, about 12 million women experience major depression each year, which is double the rate of men. Physical factors such as iron, vitamin D, and Omega-3 fatty acid deficiencies along with menopause and thyroid disease can contribute to depression.
  • Men experience depression differently than women. Men are less likely to report feelings of depression to their doctor, and they’re more likely to “self-medicate” with alcohol or other substances.
  • Depression can persist even after you place your loved one in a care facility. It can be stressful to move your loved one into a long-term care facility. Even though you may get some much-needed rest, you may feel guilty or lonely, which may contribute to major depression.

Caregiver Support Services

Some caregivers can receive compensation from their state’s Medicaid program. Benefits and payment amounts vary by state. 

You can also look for online and in-person support groups that focus on the needs of specific caregivers. For example, some support groups are only for dementia caregivers. 

Other caregiver resources include educational materials and respite care, which is when your loved one stays at a hospital or long-term care facility to give you a break. Medicare will cover respite care only if it’s a part of hospice care. 

How to Prevent Depression

According to WebMD, doctors don’t know if it’s possible to “prevent depression altogether.” However, you may be able to keep it from returning if you’ve already had an episode. Some therapists use a treatment called mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), which combines cognitive therapy with mindfulness. 

According to the Mayo Clinic, cognitive therapy is a type of psychotherapy that helps the patient change negative thinking patterns that can come with depression. Mindfulness is the “self-regulation of attention with an attitude of curiosity, openness, and acceptance, according to Psychology Today.

Other ways to help prevent depression include changes to your lifestyle and nutrition habits. Even though there’s no guaranteed way to prevent depression, you can: 

  • Find ways to improve your self-esteem and manage stress.
  • Practice healthy eating, sleeping, and exercise habits.
  • Reach out to friends and family during difficult times
  • Get regular medical check-ups and make a doctor’s appointment if you don’t feel right.

Treatment for Depression in Older Adults and Medicare Coverage

Even the most severe depression can be treated, according to NIA. Treatments often include therapy — usually talk therapy — and prescription drugs.

Depression can get a lot worse if you wait to seek help, so it’s important to talk to your doctor as soon as you notice something is wrong.

You can receive Medicare coverage for depression treatment if you are 65 or older, have ALS or ESRD, or have received SSDI for at least 25 months. 

Medicare Part B may cover behavioral health services like psychiatrist or psychologist appointments. Counseling or therapy sessions may be limited because they are only covered under Medicare if your doctor accepts Medicare assignment. Behavioral health services can include:

  • One-on-one and group therapy
  • Substance abuse treatment
  • Occupational therapy
  • Active therapy (art, dance, music therapy)
  • Family counseling
  • Annual depression screening
  • Prescription drugs you cannot administer yourself

Original Medicare will cover these services at 80 percent of the Medicare-approved amount. This means you may pay 20 percent coinsurance after you meet the Part B deductible. For example, if your psychologist bills Medicare for $200, you’ll pay $40.

Other treatments for depression can include antidepressants, which are prescription drugs that can help ease symptoms of depression. Original Medicare does not cover prescription drugs. However, Medicare Part D or certain Medicare Advantage plans do.

Medicare Advantage policies are private insurance plans that can offer additional benefits to help treat and prevent depression such as depression screening, possible reduced therapy costs*, and fitness classes!

Another option for additional Medicare coverage is a Medicare Supplement (Medigap) plan. You cannot have a Medicare Advantage plan and a Medigap plan at the same time, so it’s important to know the difference between the two. Medicare Advantage plans cover additional benefits. Medigap plans cover financial items such as coinsurance and copays**. 

*A Medicare Advantage plan may offer coverage for therapy services. You may still owe a copay.

**You are still responsible for the Medicare Part B premium even if you have a Medicare Advantage or a Medicare Supplement plan.

Get Medicare Mental Health Coverage Today

Whether you need a Medigap plan, a Medicare Advantage plan, and/or a standalone Medicare Part D plan, a licensed agent with Medicare Plan Finder may be able to help. 

Our agents are highly trained and they can help you assess your needs. Your agent can see what plans are available in your area and help you determine what’s right for you. Call 844-431-1832 or contact us here to set up a no-cost, no-obligation appointment.

5 Ways to Boost Brain Health for Seniors

It’s perfectly natural to lose some mental “processing speed” as we age. This process is called cognitive aging and usually starts as soon as we reach adulthood. While certain brain functions like vocabulary might even improve as we get older, others will gradually decline. A common list of cognitive changes in elderly people typically includes slower problem solving, diminished spatial awareness, and a decline in perceptual speed and memory.

 Most of these aging brain symptoms are entirely normal but the rate of this decline may increase, leading to MCI (mild cognitive impairment) or even dementia. However, scientific research has uncovered several methods proven to help maintain elderly brain health and most of them are simple things you can do in your day-to-day life!

Staying Active At Any Age

The connection between exercise and brain health for seniors has long been established. But new studies are suggesting that staying active may be the best way to prevent memory loss in old age! While it might be most effective before severe memory loss begins, it also appears to benefit those with advanced conditions like Alzheimer’s or vascular dementia. 

Seniors who exercise regularly can experience reduced inflammation, improved blood flow, and even increased growth of new blood vessels in the brain. An active lifestyle can also improve the quality of sleep, which we will see later is another crucial factor in maintaining brain health. In fact, sustaining a moderate regimen of low impact exercises from six months to a year has even been associated with increased volume in the prefrontal and medial temporal cortices, the parts of the brain responsible for memory and critical thinking!

Medicare Fitness Programs

Unfortunately, the research also indicates that exercise must be a regular commitment in order to see some of these amazing benefits. But dedicating at least three hours a week can be difficult for seniors who don’t have access to a gym. This is where Medicare plans that include fitness programs can help. Plans can include Medicare fitness programs Programs like SilverSneakers® and Silver&Fit® that are designed specifically for seniors and can provide access to fitness and exercise centers. Some may supply their less mobile members with home fitness kits.

Medicare Fitness Programs
Click to get fit!

Food For Thought: Brain Healthy Foods For Seniors

Many of us probably remember our mothers extolling the virtues of “brain food.” Turns out she was right! A diet consisting of mostly fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, and fish has been closely linked to brain health and a lower risk of dementia. This “Mediterranean diet” is also often touted for its positive effects on heart health and cardiovascular risk factors, which can indirectly influence the health of the brain.

Senior Healthy Eating Grocery List
Healthy Living Grocery List

Best Memory Supplements For Seniors

In addition to a more healthy diet, many seniors take supplements to get a higher dose of these crucial ingredients than can be found in the foods themselves. Some of the most popular include fish oils like omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants such as resveratrol, as well as creatine and even caffeine.

Companies have begun producing memory supplements targeted at seniors. Some of these include:

  • Brainol (includes 19 ingredients for improved cognition, like B-Vitamins, Huperzine A, L-Theanine, and DMAE.
  • Neurofuse (includes B-Vitamins, L-Theanine, DMAE Bitartrate, and Huperzine A.)
  • True Focus (includes Horse Chestnut, Butcher’s Broom, Hesperidin, etc.)
  • Irwin Naturals Brain Awake (includes Vitamin B6 and L-Theanine)
  • BriteSmart (includes Huperzine A)

While memory supplements are not typically covered by Medicare, some Medicare Advantage plans might have an OTC (over the counter) allowance benefit which would allow you to purchase supplements. Click here to read more about OTC benefits in Medicare.

Free Prescription Discount Card
Free Prescription Discount Card

Training An Aging Brain

One of the easiest methods for seniors to maintain mental acuity is daily brain training. This interactive practice can take on many forms, from crossword puzzles to arts and crafts. And now more than ever, there are services and applications specifically designed to give you your daily dose of critical thinking.

Activities for Alzheimer’s Patients at Home

There are countless ways for seniors to get their brains engaged on a daily basis. Many are things you might already enjoy, including puzzles or card games. In the technological age, of course, many of these activities can be done on a computer or smartphone.

In addition to these traditional games, there are many apps that are designed specifically as activities for seniors with dementia and Alzheimer’s. Apps like Lumosity are great for challenging your brain on a daily basis and some, such as Mindmate, even include exercise and nutrition tips. A cursory Google search may also help you find other free brain games for seniors.

Medicare Crossword and Word Search
Free Medicare Crossword and Word Search

Seniors Staying Social

Some doctors suggest that one of the best ways to retain memory and cognitive functioning is to remain engaged with a social group. Many seniors use social media to stay in touch with family and friends and there are even apps like Timeless that are designed to help people with dementia or Alzheimer’s stay social.

Clear Your Mind (And The Rest Will Follow)

The importance of everyday factors like stress and sleep on brain health for seniors shouldn’t be overlooked, especially for the elderly. A good night’s sleep will clear the brain of toxins that accumulate throughout the day like beta-amyloid, a protein which is also commonly found in Alzheimer’s patients. Stress can also play a huge role in how the brain functions by introducing high levels of cortisol and even possibly reducing the size of the prefrontal cortex, the part of your brain that governs memory and learning.

Meditation and Aging

Meditation has been shown to increase the thickness of the hippocampus and decrease the volume of the amygdala, which is responsible for stress and anxiety. Research into mindfulness meditation has even indicated an effect on the process of aging itself. A 2017 UCLA study showed that the brains of people who meditate regularly actually declined at a slower rate than those who did not.

Natural Sleep Remedies For The Elderly

We know that sleep is essential for overall brain health for seniors, but many older adults experience trouble sleeping. Some practices for getting better sleep include turning off screens and lights, regular exercise, reducing sugar intake, and keeping a consistent sleep schedule with naps no longer than 20 minutes. If something more serious is causing you to lose sleep, you might need to consult a physician to test for sleep apnea or to evaluate any medications you might be taking.

Medicare Annual Wellness Visit

If the decline in cognitive functions persists or accelerates, you may need to seek professional help as a preventive measure. As part of your Medicare benefits, you may be entitled to a paid Annual Wellness Visit with your primary care provider to develop a personalized prevention plan that takes into account your lifestyle and risk factors.

In addition to checking physical factors like height, weight, and blood pressure, they can perform a cognitive assessment and screen for various forms of dementia or cognitive impairment. Additionally, a Special Needs Plan might be used to supplement your Medicare benefits. These plans are Medicare Advantage products specifically focused on providing care and coverage for patients with dementia.

Prescription Drug Plans for Alzheimer’s

If your condition or that of a loved one develops into Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, Medicare Part D may cover the cost of prescription drugs to treat the symptoms. These medications include brands like Aricept and Exelon. Though they are not cures for the disease itself, they are effective at temporarily improving common symptoms of dementia, such as confusion or aggression.

Memory Care Through Medicare

Some severe cases of dementia and Alzheimer’s can make it nearly impossible to handle all the daily duties that come with living alone. In these cases, Medicare may help pay for nursing home care for a period of up to 100 days but will not cover such a solution in the long-term. However, some Medicare Part C plans may help cover the high costs of a nursing home or memory care facility.

For help enrolling in a Medicare plan that covers memory care and other brain health services, call us at 833-438-3676 or click here.

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