Depression is not a normal part of growing older, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Depression is a true and treatable medical condition, not a normal part of aging, but older adults are at an increased risk for experiencing depression.
Older adults are at increased risk. Approximately 80 percent of older adults have at least one chronic health condition, and 50 percent have two or more.
Depression is more common in people who also have other illnesses, such as heart disease or cancer, or whose functions become limited.
Older adults are often misdiagnosed and under-treated as health care 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.
Often older adults share this belief and don’t seek help because they don’t understand that they could feel better with appropriate treatment.
Depression is not just having “the blues” or the emotions we feel when grieving the loss of a loved one. It is a treatable medical condition like diabetes or hypertension.
The CDC states that if you’re concerned about a loved one, offer to go with him or her to see a health care provider to be diagnosed and treated.
How do I know if it’s depression? 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; guilt, worthlessness and/or helplessness; irritability; restlessness; loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable; fatigue and decreased energy.
Other depression symptoms include difficulty concentrating, remembering details and making decisions; insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping; overeating or appetite loss; thoughts of suicide, attempts at suicide; and persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not get better, even with treatment.
How many older adults are depressed? The good news, states the CDC, is that the majority of adults are not depressed. Some estimates of major depression in older people living in the community range from less than one percent to about five percent, but rise to 13.5 percent in those who require home health care and 11.5 percent in older hospital patients.
The Geriatric Mental Health Foundation (GMHF) offers an online guide to mental wellness in older age and recognizing and overcoming depression.
The GMHF states that in addition to seeking professional medical help, you can take additional steps to enhance treatment.
An important part of getting better is modifying some of your lifestyle choices to promote healthier living. Healthy lifestyles not only improve your quality of life but are also a strong disease prevention strategy.
If you have been diagnosed with depression, ask for support from a good friend or family member and tell them how you feel. Ask them to listen to you and not to judge or criticize, and keep names and phone numbers of people that you can talk to and that can help you.
Eat a healthy diet and limit your intake of sugar, alcohol, caffeine and salt;
Get exercise and spend time outdoors. Exercise and natural light can be effective natural treatments for depression;
Spend time with people you enjoy and avoid people who are not supportive;
Talk with those who have had similar experiences and feelings because they will understand how you feel;
Pace yourself. Don’t expect to do everything that you did before you had depression. Set a realistic schedule. Ask a friend or family member to take over some of the things that you need to do for a period of time;
Think positively and try to avoid blaming yourself or expecting failure. Identify areas of your life that are positive;
Identify and make a list of pleasant activities and routines that you enjoyed before you became depressed;
Think about those activities as well as those you’d like to do. Once you’ve identified them, start to return to that routine. Choose one activity each week from the list;
Identify problems in your life and list problems that you think may have triggered the depression. Work out a strategy to deal with the problems and discuss them with family, friends and your health care provider to develop a realistic step-by-step action plan;
Avoid making major life decisions. If you do need to make a major decision that will impact your life, ask a friend or family member for assistance; and
Be patient. It will take time to get better.