Annual Medicare Depression Screening

One in six seniors suffers from depression. That rises to one in four with the presence of at least two chronic diseases or conditions in a patient. Medicare Part B (Medical Insurance) covers one depression screening per year.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force indicates that depression screening and depression care support improve clinical outcomes in older adults. Your cost for this screening is nothing, if your doctor accepts assignment, which most do. The screening must occur in a primary care setting (like a doctor’s office) that can provide follow-up treatment and/or referrals. You will most likely be asked to complete a Patient Health Questionnaire at the beginning of your assessment.

Typically, staff-assisted depression care assessments consist of clinical staff (nurse, physician assistant) in the primary care office who can advise the physician of screening results and who can facilitate and coordinate referrals as necessary. More comprehensive services can be provided based on screening results and patient preference, including treatment within the primary care setting, patient education and support for patient self management, and coordination with any mental health professional to whom a patient may be referred.

Signs of Depression in Seniors

Behavioral Symptoms

The behavioral symptoms of depression are often the most telling. You or those around you may notice a loss interest in activities you once enjoyed. There may also be social withdrawal, isolating from friends or social gatherings. While these symptoms are common, they can lead to a vicious cycle as the one becomes more isolated. That, in turn, can worsen depression symptoms. There are several other behavioral signs of depression in seniors:

  • Unusual fearfulness, anxiety, or paranoia
  • Decreased emphasis on everyday self-care
  • Pacing, fidgeting, or other unusual physical tics

Cognitive Symptoms

The cognitive symptoms of depression often go overlooked. These symptoms sometimes mimic the signs of illnesses like dementia. However, there are several key differences between depression and dementia.

With depression, mental decline is rapid, often taking place over the course of a few weeks. Mental decline is slower in dementia patients. While both dementia and depression patients may have trouble concentrating, depression patients will maintain control of their language and cognitive skills in a way that dementia patients cannot. Cognitive symptoms of depression to watch out for:

  • Indecisiveness
  • Increased memory problems
  • Ever-present sadness or thoughts of death
  • Decreased cognitive abilities or “brain fog”

Physical Symptoms

Many seniors are plagued by medical conditions that can be painful or life-threatening. Any of these can result in depression. However, several depression symptoms may actually mimic those of chronic medical conditions such as Parkinson’s disease. The distinction between depression symptoms and those of other illnesses can be easy to miss. If unsure, look for these key physical depression symptoms:

  • Unexplained physical pain and headaches
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia (sleeping too much)
  • Ongoing fatigue
  • Changes in weight or appetite
  • Unexplained gastrointestinal symptoms

Unfortunately, depression often times goes untreated. Many assume that depression is a normal part of aging, or confuse symptoms with those of another illness. However, there are a host of physical, behavioral, and cognitive symptoms of depression that shouldn’t be ignored.