Since retiring a few years ago, my husband has become increasingly irritable and apathetic. I'm concerned that he may be depressed, even though he may not realize it. Where can we turn to get help with this and what, if anything, does Medicare pay for?
Unfortunately, depression is a widespread problem that affects approximately 15% of the 65-and-older population. Here is what you need to know about identifying depression, treating depression and Medicare coverage.
Everyone feels sad or gets the blues now and then, but when these feelings linger more than a few weeks it may be depression. Depression is a real illness that affects moods, feelings, behavior and physical health. Contrary to what many people believe, it is not a normal part of aging or a personal weakness and is very treatable.
It is also important to know that depression is not just sadness. For many individuals, it can manifest as apathy or irritability. Individuals may also experience problems with memory or concentration.
To help assess the seriousness of your husband's problem, he may want to start by taking an online depression screening test. Mental Health America, a national nonprofit organization, offers a variety of free online mental health screening tools at MentalHealthAmerica.net. He can also visit HelpYourselfHelpOthers.org, which is offered by Screening for Mental Health, Inc.
Both of these websites' tests are anonymous and confidential. The tests take less than 10 minutes to complete and can help you determine the severity of your husband's problem.
If you find that he is suffering from symptoms of depression, he should visit his doctor for a medical evaluation to rule out possible medical causes. Some medications, for example, can produce side effects that mimic symptoms of depression. It is also important to distinguish between depression and dementia, which can share some of the same symptoms.
If he is diagnosed with depression, there are a variety of treatment options, including talk therapy, antidepressant medications or a combination of both.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a particularly effective type of talk therapy. CBT helps patients recognize and change destructive thinking patterns that can lead to negative feelings.
For help finding a therapist who is trained in CBT, ask your doctor for a referral, check your local yellow pages under "counseling" or "psychologist" or use an online search engine to locate a CBT therapist in your area. You can also check with the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies (FindCBT.org) or the Academy of Cognitive Therapy (AcademyofCT.org).
To search for therapists that accept Medicare, use Medicare's Physician Compare tool. Go to Medicare.gov/physiciancompare and type in your zip code or city and state, then type in the type of profession you want locate, like "psychiatry" or "clinical psychologist" in the "What are you searching for?" box.
You will be happy to know that Medicare currently covers 100% of the costs for annual depression screenings that are done in a doctor's office or other primary care clinic. It also pays for 80% of its approved amount for outpatient mental health services like counseling and therapy services, and will cover almost all medications used to treat depression under the Part D prescription drug benefit.
If you and your husband get your Medicare benefits through a private Medicare Advantage plan, then the same services must be covered as original Medicare, but your husband will likely be required to see an in-network provider. You will need to contact your plan administrator directly for the details.
Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living” book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization’s official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.