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Depression in older adults can be managed with proper treatment.

What to Know About Depression and Aging

Depression in Older Adults

If you have noticed you have become less motivated, cannot bring yourself to do the things you love and often have the general feeling of sadness, you might be suffering from depression. This can happen with age. Let’s take a look at depression in older adults.

Older adults can become depressed from coping with age and looking back at their life. It is estimated that about 7% of older adults suffer from depression. Depression in the elderly can be treated effectively but often goes unrecognized. It can have serious consequences, including a higher risk of physical illness, impaired functioning and even suicide.

Here we have a look at the signs and causes of depression and the steps you can take to turn it around.

What Does Depression in Older Adults Look Like?

The elderly seldom suffer from major depressive episodes, but rather experience more ongoing, subtle symptoms that could be written off as a normal part of aging, or the effects of illnesses or loss.

Some common red flags are:

  • Low motivation and energy. Even personal care like preparing meals, personal hygiene and normal household tasks could be too much effort.
  • Losing interest in hobbies and socializing.
  • Feeling tired all the time and
    sleep disturbances
    , particularly insomnia.
  • Loss of self worth and feeling hopeless. Lots of negative thoughts will go through your mind all day about how difficult life is, how useless you are and worrisome thoughts about life.
  • Physical symptoms like loss of appetite, worsening aches and pains.

Older people often experience loss through the passing away of loved ones, loss of independence due to illness, or moving out of one’s home. Grieving in these circumstances is normal but it does get better over time. During grief, people experience a roller coaster of emotions. There are better days and worse days and even pleasurable moments in between. When the low feeling becomes a constant companion it is most likely depression.

Causes of Depression in Older Adults

There are multiple causes of depression in older people. These reasons can be physical, psychological and social. Sometimes it may even be caused by an interaction of a number of factors. This is why regular check-ups are important and also why you should tell your health care provider if you think you might be depressed.

Other Health Conditions

Some of the physical causes include heart disease which affects blood flow to the brain, structural and chemical changes in the brain, type 2 diabetes which affects energy levels, lack of essential nutrients in the diet and side effects of medications.

Stress

Any stressful life event can trigger depression and with older people. Examples are losing purpose in life when one stops working, deterioration in financial status, being a full-time caregiver for one’s spouse, losing mobility and independence due to illness, loss of a loved one, moving out of one’s home into a long-term care facility.

Furthermore, these life events often bring about loneliness and loss of one’s social support network which also contribute to depression.

Lack of Activity

Reduced activity, whether due to retirement, loss of mobility or other health problems, has been identified as another major reason for depression in later life. Activity and its successful completion triggers the brain to release feel-good chemicals.

How to Cope With Depression

Recognizing that you have symptoms of depression and that you need to do something about it is the most important step. Depression in older adults can be treated successfully. If you identify the problem in its early stages there is a lot you can do yourself to get back on track. It may be difficult at first but you only need to take small steps every day. These steps include:

    Getting some physical exercise. Research has shown that exercise could be a good medication for treating depression. Start with small goals, like going for a walk.

  • Get enough sleep. You should try and avoid sleeping pills by improving your sleep naturally. Be as active as possible during the day, get into a fixed sleep routine and wind down for an hour before sleep with relaxing activities. If the problem persists consult your health care practitioner.
  • Eat healthy. Make sure that you get all the nutrients you need by eating a healthy diet with enough fruit and vegetables. Get out in the sunlight to make sure you get enough vitamin D. You might even consider a multivitamin and mineral supplement.
  • Manage negative thinking. Monitor your self-talk and become aware of your thoughts. Ask yourself if what you are thinking is true. Try meditation or prayer, journaling, or making a list of what you are grateful for. These activities have all been shown to bring about a shift in pessimistic thought patterns.
  • Build more social connections. Engaging with others face-to-face is a basic human need. Join a club or support group, volunteer, take up a sporting activity for older adults, or even just invite someone to join you for a daily walk or a cup of coffee.

When to See a Doctor

Consult a health care provider if the above suggestions do not help or if you are so depressed that you cannot even get yourself to try them. This is particularly important if you have experienced these feelings for weeks or months on end.

There are effective treatments for depression which include medication and various tested psychological therapies.

Older Adults Can Enjoy Life

Depression later in life does happen and usually has multiple causes, but it should never be accepted as a normal part of aging.

There are steps you can take when you realize that you are depressed. Take charge of your diet, address any sleeping problems and get physically active. Find activities that you enjoy and connect socially. If these suggestions do not gradually make a difference, do not hesitate to talk to a health care provider about your depression.