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Depression and the Elderly

Depression and the Elderly

Clinical depression among the elderly is very different from depression in young adults. This is because the elderly are dealing with many things that young adults may never have faced, such as retirement, isolation, health problems, the loss of friends and relatives their age, a lack of a support system, and body changes. All these can make the impact of depression among the elderly more keenly felt, and the depression lasts longer.

Perhaps you have a mother who, all her life was very strong and domineering. Suddenly, you see behavior changes, and you tell yourself that she is merely experiencing senility. A part of you is in denial, just as much as your mother may be. You may be in denial that your powerful mother is growing older and weaker. Your mother may not want to face the stigma of depression that is more strongly felt in her generation.

And yet, if you fail to spot the possibility of clinical depression in your beloved elderly parent, that is most unfortunate, because it is treatable and it can give your loved one a better quality of life in his or her old age.

About six million elderly Americans (65 and older) experience elderly clinical depression, but only 10 percent of cases are treated. When your elderly parent has a number of illnesses, perhaps a disability and uses different medications for other illnesses, you may not spot clinical depression as an added illness.

 Added risks of elderly depression

Elderly clinical depression carries added risks. It can lead to risk of other illnesses such as cardiac disease and heart attack. If your beloved elderly parent has other illnesses, elderly depression can bring down the immune system and exacerbate these other illnesses and slow down rehabilitation. Because of this, the risk of death is increased, including death by suicide.
The elderly are particularly susceptible to clinical depression. This is the stage where you see your friends and relatives your age die. The reality of death cannot be ignored, unlike when you are young and death is rare among your friends and your support system.
The elderly tend to lack a support system because at this stage they are retired, may have changed residence, and lost a number of their community of friends through death, health changes, or change of location.
Elderly women are more prone to depression, especially if the woman is widowed, divorced, or single. If she is experiencing a stressful life event, for example, the death of a spouse or a sudden disability or physical illness, she is very much at risk of elderly depression, more so if she does not have a supportive community to rely on.

 Possible signs of elderly depression

If you suspect that your much-loved elderly parent, friend or relative may be experiencing depression, here are some signs that you can look for.
1. Insomnia. This usually is a sign of elderly depression.
2. Medicines. If your elderly parent is taking several different medications, depression may be a side effect.
3. Bodily change. If your elderly parent has had a bodily change such as an amputation, a heart attack or cancer surgery, she or he will be at risk of depression in dealing with this change and feeling a sense of loss and possible mortality.
4. Family history. People with a family history of major depression have a predisposition to attaining the same illness themselves.
5. Isolation. Living alone, with no friends to talk to regularly, or even living among people who don’t care or love you can make you feel very lonely. In the case of the elderly this is more keenly felt because their bodies are weaker, and they may be less independent to do things that normal people can do. If the elderly person lacks love and care, he or she may feel like a burden to those around him or her. Isolation, whether it is physical or keenly felt in a house of people, can be a cause for clinical depression. If you care for your elderly parent but do not live with them, make sure that they are in a caring environment.
6. Past suicide attempts. This is a red flag. Just one attempt should already signal that you should have your elderly parent consult a doctor for possible clinical depression.
7. Fear of death. Conversely, it is possible that your elderly parent is always thinking about death and is fearful of it. Such toxic thinking can be indicative of depression.
8. Chronic or severe pain. Physical pain is depressing and when it is uncontrollable, it can signal depression. The feeling of loss of control of one’s body and one’s pain can be both physically painful and mentally and emotionally demoralizing. This combination can lead to depression.
9. Substance abuse. If your elderly parent has been taking too much alcohol, or chain smokes, or takes drugs like marijuana (more than what is clinically prescribed), or non-prescribed pain medication (or more than what is described), these are all signs of self-medicating and can perhaps be blamed on depression.
If you suspect that your elderly parent may be depressed, bring him or her to the doctor immediately. The doctor may possibly do a brain scan to see if the brain is receiving enough blood flow. Chemical changes in the brain can also cause depression.
Otherwise, the doctor can prescribe medications to alleviate depression. Either way, it will be an empowering experience for your elderly parent to know that depression is something that they don’t have to live with. Once they feel better about themselves and their lives, they can pursue rehabilitation, and even better, have the quality of life that they deserve.
March 8, 2015 / by / in
Key to blocking Alzheimer’s

Key to blocking Alzheimer’s progress discovered

Alzheimer’s disease is caused by naturally occurring protein molecules folding into the wrong shape then sticking together with other protein molecules to create amyloid fibrils.

British researchers have identified a molecule that can block the progress of Alzheimer’s disease at a crucial stage in its development. They have found a molecular chaperone that inhibits a key stage in the development of the disease and breaks the toxic chain reaction that leads to the death of brain cells.

Scientists at Cambridge University have shown that a type of molecule “Brichos” which occurs naturally in humans, can play the role of an inhibitor during the molecular process that is believed to cause Alzheimer’s disease. Scientists believe that this breaks the cycle of events leading to the disease. Research has provided an effective basis for finding molecules that could be used for treating the condition.

Brichos clings to threads of malfunctioning proteins called amyloid fibrils, which are the hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. In doing so, the molecules stop the threads coming into contact with other amyloid proteins, thereby helping to avoid formation of highly toxic clusters which enable the condition to grow rapidly in the brain.

One of the most critical stages in the development of Alzheimer’s in sufferers is considered to be – where fibrils made up of malfunctioning proteins amyloid assist in the formation of toxic clusters. Scientists have moved closer to identifying a substance by finding a molecule that could prevent the disease and eventually treat it. A range of options for future drug development could be made possible through this discovery.

This research was carried out by an international team of academics from the department of chemistry at the University of Cambridge, the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Lund University, the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and Tallinn University.

Lead author Dr Samuel Cohen, University of Cambridge, and lead author said “Our study shows, for the first time, one of these critical processes being specifically inhibited, and reveals that by doing so we can prevent the toxic effects of protein aggregation that are associated with this terrible condition.”

February 18, 2015 / by / in
Why do we need our eight hours sleep?

Why do we need our eight hours sleep?

For decades, scientists have been baffled with this question, but now researches mayhave discovered what makes us fall asleep, why a long sleep feels good and why lack of it reduces our thinking power and can lead to dementia. People who have Alzheimer’s have been found to have an excess build up of beta-amyloid. This is a protein that clumps together and causes plaque in the brain and also in the blood vessels to the brain. Longer- term build up of amyloid are linked to Alzheimer’s disease. Hence, the process of eliminating these harmful toxins in the brain may reduce risk of Alzheimer’s. Researchers found that the conscious brain cannot spare the energy to eliminate the “toxic waste” it accumulates during the day and when the waste reaches a potentially damaging level, it triggers a powerful urge to sleep. During sleep the brain is able to reconfigure itself, opening up channels between its billions of cells and flushing them with cerebrospinal fluid.  This clear colourless fluid from the brain bathes the brain and spinal cord. Besides being a transporter of nutrients and a filter of chemicals, it helps pad the brain as a shock absorber. Dr Maiken Nedergaard, a professor of neurosurgery at the University of Rochester believes that the flow of cerebrospinal fluid greatly increases during sleep. This flushes away damaging waste like the harmful protein beta-amyloid, which builds up while we are awake and alert. Dr Nedergaard said “one of the greatest mysteries in biology is why sleep is restorative and conversely, why lack of sleep impairs brain function. Sleep deprivation can reduce learning, impair cognitive performance, and is a common cause of seizures. In humans, fatal familial or sporadic insomnia is a progressively worsening state of sleeplessness. This can lead to dementia and death.   The restorative function of sleep may be a result of the enhanced removal of potentially neurotoxin waste products that accumulate in the awake central nervous system”. The research was prompted by observations that concentrations of waste in the human
brain decrease during sleep and increase after waking. The same phenomenon was observed in mice. Dr Nedergaard understood this by studying mice and related this process to “a dishwasher”. Researchers injected dye into the cerebrospinal fluid of mice and watched it flow through their brains while simultaneously monitoring brain electrical activities. They found that the dye flowed rapidly when the mice were unconscious, either anaesthetised or asleep. However, the dye barely flowed when these mice were awake.
Dr Nedergaard said “we were surprised by how little flow there was into the brain when the mice were awake”. “It suggested that the space between brain cells changed greatly
between conscious and unconscious states”. By inserting electrodes into the brain to directly measure the space between cells, researchers found that the space between the
cells increased by 60 % when the mice were asleep or anaesthetised. Dr Nedergaard said“we need sleep”. It cleans up the brain
Dr Maiken Nedergaard told the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in San Jose “prior to this finding, no one really understood how the brain exports its waste”. It had been thought that the cells broke down and recycled their own waste.
Moreover, researchers found that waste flushing can become less efficient with age, providing insights into why the onset of dementia is associated with accumulation of toxic proteins.
February 16, 2015 / 2 Comments / by / in