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Older Adults and Depression

Depression is a true and treatable medical condition, not a normal part of aging. However older adults are at an increased risk for experiencing depression. The changes that often come in later life—retirement, the death of loved ones, increased isolation, medical problems—can lead to depression. Depression is not just having "the blues" or the emotions we feel when grieving the loss of a loved one. It is a true medical condition that is treatable, like diabetes or hypertension.

Someone who is depressed has feelings of sadness or anxiety that last for weeks at a time. He or she may also experience–

  • Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness and/or helplessness
  • Irritability, restlessness
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details and making decisions
  • Insomnia, early–morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
  • Overeating or appetite loss
  • Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts
  • Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not get better, even with treatment

 

Depression without sadness

While depression and sadness might seem to go hand and hand, many depressed seniors claim not to feel sad at all. They may complain, instead, of low motivation, a lack of energy, or physical problems. In fact, physical complaints, such as arthritis pain or worsening headaches, are often the predominant symptom of depression in the elderly.

 

Depression clues in older adults

Older adults who deny feeling sad or depressed may still have major depression. Here are the clues to look for:

  • Unexplained or aggravated aches and pains
  • Feelings of hopelessness or helplessness
  • Anxiety and worries
  • Memory problems
  • Lack of motivation and energy
  • Slowed movement and speech
  • Irritability
  • Loss of interest in socializing and hobbies
  • Neglecting personal care (skipping meals, forgetting meds, neglecting personal hygiene) (2)

 

Depression Different for Older Adults

  • Older adults are at increased risk. We know that about 80% of older adults have at least one chronic health condition, and 50% have two or more. Depression is more common in people who also have other illnesses (such as heart disease or cancer) or whose function becomes limited.
  • Older adults are often misdiagnosed and undertreated. Healthcare providers may mistake an older adult's symptoms of depression as just a natural reaction to illness or the life changes that may occur as we age, and therefore not see the depression as something to be treated. Older adults themselves often share this belief and do not seek help because they don't understand that they could feel better with appropriate treatment. (3)

 

Depression Self-Help

Overcoming depression often involves finding new things you enjoy, learning to adapt to change, staying physically and socially active, and feeling connected to your community and loved ones. Here are some things that will help:

  • Exercise
  • Connect with Others
  • Bring your life into balance
  • Get enough sleep
  • Maintain a healthy diet
  • Participate in activities you enjoy
  • Volunteer your time
  • Take care of a pet
  • Learn a new skill
  • Create opportunities to laugh