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Depression in Older Adults

Learn to recognize the signs of depression and find the treatment that works for you

The changes that occur in life as we age such as an increases in medical problems, the loss of loved ones and an increase in isolation can often lead to depression. Depression is no laughing matter as 15 percent of the senior population suffers from this debilitating disease.

Sure it’s normal to feel a little blue now and then, but if you are feeling down in the dumps for more than a couple weeks straight it may be time to get help.

The signs of depression in the elderly are often overlooked because as a person ages these behaviors are more likely to be dismissed as crankiness or grumpiness. In addition, confusion or attention problems caused by depression can sometimes look like Alzheimer's disease or other brain disorders. Mood disorders and changes can be caused by medicines the elderly may take for high blood pressure or heart disease.

It is important to remember that depression can happen at the same time as other chronic diseases so it can be difficult for a doctor to make an accurate diagnosis. Any chronic medical condition, particularly if it is painful, disabling, or life-threatening, can lead to a depressed state of mind. These include; Parkinson’s disease, stroke, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, thyroid disorders, Vitamin B12 deficiency, dementia, lupus and multiple sclerosis.

Depression does not have to be a normal part of aging and if you seek treatment early you are more likely to make a quick recovery. There are many steps you can take to overcome the symptoms of depression, no matter your age or the challenges you face. Medication, therapy, support groups and even light therapy as well as a healthy diet and adequate exercise can help alleviate the symptoms of depression and get you on the road to recovery.

Your brain continues to change throughout life, so it’s never too late to make positive changes and experience the joy of your golden years. Learn to recognize the signs of depression and get the help you need.

Emotional symptoms may include constant sadness, irritability, hopelessness, feeling worthless or guilty for no reason, crying for no apparent reason, loss of interest in your favorite activities including sex and thoughts of suicide.

Physical symptoms may include trouble sleeping, low energy or fatigue, significant weight change (gain or loss), difficulty concentrating and memory loss.

In Cupertino, seniors can find help at Live Oak Senior Day Services or for immediate help call the Bay Area Crisis Suicide and Crisis Intervention Alliance.

It is important for family and friends to watch for signs of depression in the elderly. Don't ignore the warning signs as serious depression can lead to suicide. Listen intently if a loved one complains about being depressed or has feelings of hopelessness. He or she may be reaching out for help.

Susanne Millar November 29, 2011 at 04:08 PM
Great article on a subject that is so often ignored. I forwarded it to someone I know is depressed. For many generations, there is still a stigma that is attached to depression & therapy. The reality is that depression is common and therapy helps.
Anne Ernst (Editor) November 29, 2011 at 04:51 PM
Susanne, I'm so pleased to know you found this article informative. I hope it helps reach the person you sent it to. It's such a difficult subject to broach with some people.
Janeen Pratt MA-Gerontology November 29, 2011 at 07:49 PM
Wonderful article to create awareness for Seasonal Depression too that is often triggered by memories of loved ones and shorter daylight hours. Live Oak is wonderful and they have other locations as well. Live Oak or your local senior center is a way to reach out and engage as you age with others to connect and reassure one another. Seasonal Depression can also bring out the "shopaholic" in an older adult who would otherwise be frugal in their purchases at other times of the year. Reach out and hug someone today by phone or in person. Thank you for a timely article.
Aracelly Clouse November 30, 2011 at 05:15 AM
Hi Janeen, So true--the holiday season can definitely bring on bouts of depression for many. Aracelly
Aracelly Clouse November 30, 2011 at 05:20 AM
Hi Susanne, I agree with you 100%. Hopefully with more awareness on the matter there will be less of a stigma attached. I hope your friend finds the help he/she needs. Thank you, Aracelly
Anne Ernst (Editor) November 30, 2011 at 05:39 PM
Janeen, I was unaware of a "shopaholic" side effect to depression. There's a lot of temptation this time of year from retailers so this must be a concern for those who show this tendency.

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