Depression is not a natural part of growing old. Instead, it’s a medical condition that should be treated aggressively.
Depression in older adults, or in anyone, is a serious illness. Some groups are at higher risk, but the average older person is not depressed any more than a young person. Depression affects about 7 million out of the 39 million adults older than 65
in the U.S.
Non-Hispanic white men older than 85 have the highest rates of suicide. Many of these men visited their healthcare provider within the last month. Factors that may add to older adults’ risk for depression is losing control over changes related to the aging process and losing people whom they love.
Depression is often not diagnosed because of stereotypes that family, caregivers, or even healthcare providers have that older adults are depressed in general. Older adults may mask their depression by complaining about a physical problem. This makes it harder to diagnose.
Typical signs of depression
Depression often happens at the same time as another serious illness, such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, these are typical signs of depression:
- Sleep problems—this includes too little, too much, or rising earlier than desired
- Decreased pleasure and interest in previously enjoyed activities
- Decreased energy or concentration
- Increase or decrease in appetite
- Feelings of hopelessness or helplessness
- Thoughts of death or suicide
- Self-destructive behavior
Healthcare providers look for symptoms of depression that continue for weeks at a time. If you have symptoms, your provider will also do a physical exam and rule out other causes for the symptoms. These can include certain medicines or medical conditions. A person who is physically ill and not getting better often has an underlying depression. Medicine, psychotherapy, or a combination of both can be effective in treating depression. Mild cases of depression may be eased by psychotherapy alone. People with moderate to severe depression often need antidepressant medicine.
Tips for preventing depression
You can help prevent depression by:
- Eating a healthy diet
- Getting regular exercise
- Staying connected to other people through family, community activities, senior groups or a religious affiliation
- Making an effort to do activities you find fun and/or relaxing
What to do if you notice signs of depression
If you notice signs of depression in yourself, a friend or a family member, don’t wait until it becomes severe. Talk with your healthcare provider about your own symptoms. Or talk to the person with depression. Encourage him or her to speak with a healthcare provider and seek treatment from a mental health professional.