Depression is not a normal part of aging, treatment can help
More than 6.5 million American seniors (people age 65 and older) suffer from clinical depression. However, depression in seniors often goes undiagnosed – and untreated – because symptoms go unnoticed by loved ones, caretakers, healthcare professionals, and even seniors themselves.
One reason people miss signs of depression in seniors is that they mistakenly attribute those symptoms to other medical conditions. For example, loss of appetite is a common symptom of depression, but also a common side effect of many medications.
Another common reason symptoms go unnoticed is that they’re assumed to be part of the normal aging process. Seniors are expected to slow down as they age; they’re expected to experience sadness as they lose loved ones and take on significant life changes. But it’s important to know that depression is not a normal part of the aging process. Depression is treatable.
Recognizing the signs
In order to help seniors with depression, the first step is to recognize the signs. Common symptoms of depression in seniors include:
- Insomnia or difficulty sleeping
- Withdrawal from social activities
- Memory problems
- Weight loss or weight gain
- Loss of appetite
- Vague complaints of pain or discomfort
Again, since many of these symptoms also occur with illnesses such as Alzheimer’s, they can be difficult to spot. It’s important for seniors and loved ones to talk to their physician about the possibility of depression if they experience prolonged occurrence of any of the symptoms listed above.
Depression vs. sadness
It’s also important to recognize the difference between temporary sadness and clinical depression. Sadness is a very natural reaction to traumatic events, such as the death of a friend or family member. However, sadness differs from depression in that depression doesn’t go away on its own. Depression can last for months and have serious consequences not only for mental health, but also for physical health. Depression puts seniors at higher risk for cardiac disease and infection, and it increases the severity of most physical illnesses.
Depression is treatable
The good news is depression is treatable. Eighty percent of people with depression can be treated effectively, with positive results not only for mental health, but also for overall physical health. Treatments may include medication, therapy, or a combination of the two.
Like other chronic diseases, such as diabetes or arthritis, the goal is not only to get well, but also to stay well. Depending on the nature and severity of a senior’s depression, treatment may last for months, years, or the rest of his or her life. Again, the good news is effective treatment can improve all aspects of a person’s health.
Several excellent resources offer more information about depression in seniors. Click on any of the following links or talk to a doctor to learn more.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness – Depression in Older Persons Fact Sheet
The Center for Disease Control – Aging and Depression
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