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Learned Helplessness in the Elderly: Theoretic and Clinical Considerations

The elderly is the population group that is at the greatest risk for developing major psychopathology. It has been estimated that approximately 30 percent of individuals over the age of 65 will develop at least one major depressive episode during their remaining years (Ban, 1978) and one out of seven elderly in the community

have depressive symptoms (Blazer, 1989). In addition, it has been estimated that approximately 25 percent of people over the age of 65 suffer from alcoholism and/or drug abuse (Blazer & Pennybacker, 1984). Frequently, this addiction is to prescription medications. Slightly over 6 percent of the elderly suffer from significant cognitive impairment which are caused by a myriad of both reversible and irreversible etiologies (Kay, 1977). Approximately 5 percent of the elderly suffer from a diagnosable personality disorder (Nunn, Bergmann, & Britton, 1974; Solomon, 1981a). In addition, all other disorders in the psychiatric spectrum can occur in the elderly and those elderl}7 who do not suffer from a major psychiatric disturbance frequently have to cope with the anxiety and mood changes that are the result of frequent major life crises.