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While men must deal with many difficult changes as they grow older – job loss, loss of friends/spouse through death, loss of health and physical strength etc. – it does not follow that they will necessarily become depressed. Depression is not normal even for men in their last few decades of life. According to a recent study, when depression is present, it puts older men at an increased risk for hospitalization and other negative outcomes.
The study, conducted in Perth, Australia, followed more than 5,000 men ages 69 and above. The results were analyzed by researchers in Australia, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. In the study, six percent of men showed signs of moderate to severe depression based on an accepted diagnostic tool for assessing depression. Close to one half of those men (45 percent) made one emergency room visit which turned into a hospital admission. That figure compared to only 23 percent of non-depressed men who made an emergency room visit which translated into admission. The depressed men were also at an increased risk for dying while they were in the hospital compared to non-depressed men.
Just why more depressed men than non-depressed men wind up in the hospital is a question worth consideration. Comorbidity could be one explanation. Comorbidity is the presence of one or more illnesses which accompanies a primary illness.
In this case, the depressed men may have had a prior health condition. It is possible that men with depression are less likely to follow their doctor’s instructions regarding their condition and thus minor illnesses become major health problems requiring hospitalization. But even when researchers factored out comorbidity, depression remained a significant risk factor in predicting a man’s admission to the hospital, the length of his stay, and even the hospitalization outcome. Overall, the men who were depressed showed worse health, were older and less well educated and were more apt to be smokers.
It can be tricky to catch depression in older men because they may not be as open about emotions as they are about physical symptoms. If depression is detected however, the good news is that it is highly treatable. Better than 80 percent of older patients who are treated for depression are able to overcome it. Usually, the best results come from a combination of anti-depressant therapy and counseling. However, older patients who are averse to taking more medication regularly see improvement through counseling alone.
While the link between depression and hospitalization for older men may be more complex than this initial study reflects, it makes an important case for men staying on top of their mental health. Depression should not be accepted as a normal part of aging. It isn’t. And ignoring it can lead to other problems. Elderly men who want to get the most out of every day and year, should be ready to address depression if it starts and expect to move past it and on to better things.