Don Cornelius' death uncovers a growing American problem.
We have lost an icon.
The recent death of TV pioneer Don Cornelius underscores the growing problem of depression and suicide among our elderly population.
Most people don't expect older adults to take their own lives, but this population has the highest suicide rate of any age group. There is an average of one suicide among the elderly every 90 minutes, which is why it's important to know the risk factors to keep an eye out for.
As people age, they are often met with the loss of jobs; their physical health may deteriorate, and the deaths of friends and family members. These circumstances can trigger stress that cause shifts in serotonin levels. Serotonin is also called the "happy" hormone, as it greatly influences an overall sense of well-being. It also helps to regulate moods, temper anxiety, and relieve depression. It is also credited with being a natural sleep aid. It even plays an important role in regulating such things as aggression, appetite, and sexuality.
Since our seniors often don't want to admit that they are having problems with depression or even thoughts of suicide, it is important for caregivers to watch for the warning signs such as changes in eating or sleeping habits, increased prescription drug use or stockpiling medications. Other signs include a rush to complete or revise a will, elaborate good-byes or social withdrawal and statements about hopelessness such as "I don't know if I can go on."
Depression among the elderly can be treated. In addition to counseling, there are medications that can help them lead normal lives.
There are a number of factors that may increase the chance of depression, including the following:
It is important to remember that as people age they are still a vital part of the community and we must check on them and pay attention to both verbal and nonverbal cues. We must reassure our loved ones that asking for help is a sign of strength and not weakness. The life we save may be theirs.