By Richard Ueberfluss
Clinical depression in the elderly is common. That doesn’t mean it’s normal. Late-life depression affects about 6 million Americans age 65 and older. But only 10% receive treatment for depression. The likely reason is that the elderly often display symptoms of depression differently. Depression in the elderly is also frequently confused with the effects of multiple illnesses and the medicines used to treat them.
Depression in the elderly often increases their risk of cardiac diseases. Depression doubles an elderly person’s risk of cardiac diseases and increases their risk of death from illness. At the same time, depression reduces an elderly person’s ability to rehabilitate. Studies of nursing home patients with physical illnesses have shown that the presence of depression substantially increases the likelihood of death from those illnesses. Depression also has been associated with increased risk of death following a heart attack. For that reason, making sure that an elderly person you are concerned about is evaluated and treated is important, even if the depression is mild.
Traditional treatments for depression include antidepressant medication and talk therapy. In one study of almost 3,000 patients, only 1/3 of them achieved remission from their depression after up to 14 weeks on certain drugs.
In response to data like this, a new treatment for psychiatric disorder like depression and anxiety is underway that uses real time scans to show patients how their brains go awry—and how to fix the dysfunction, according to a Wall Street Journal story.
The new approach uses neurofeedback, which directly targets the brain dysfunction and emotional and cognitive processes that are understood to underlie psychiatric disorders. It can be personalized to address the issues in each patient’s brain.
Neurofeedback is direct training of brain function, by which the brain learns to function more efficiently. The brain is observed in action from moment to moment that allows medical professionals to train the brain to act in more appropriate patterns. This is a gradual learning process.
Neurofeedback is also called EEG Biofeedback, because it is based on electrical brain activity, the electroencephalogram, or EEG. Neurofeedback is training in self-regulation. It is simply biofeedback applied to the brain directly. Self-regulation is a necessary part of good brain function. Self-regulation training allows the system (the central nervous system) to function better.
The advantage to biofeedback is that it eliminates medication and no need for extensive therapy.
Patients are asked to recall memories or look at pictures while their brains are scanned. Patients see visual representatives of their brain activity almost in real time—often presented in the form of thermometer or colored bar. Based on what their brains are doing, patients are encouraged to enhance pleasant memories or suppress unpleasant activities.
Tapping into emotional stimuli like faces, helps scientists discover what patients respond to and based on the patient’s brain activity, can stimulate the brain to diminish depression symptoms.