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Older Adults and Depression

While feeling down or sad occasionally is a normal part of life, when it goes on for an extended period of time, such as a few weeks or even months, or if it interferes with daily life and getting things done, then you might be dealing with clinical depression.

Depression is sadly a common problem among older adults, and while normal sadness is to be expected, clinical depression is not a normal part of aging. It is a serious mood disorder that negatively affects the way you think, feel, and act. Studies have shown that most older adults feel more satisfied in life than younger adults, but there are a number of contributing factors that make clinical depression a common problem among the elderly.

There are a number of different types of depression an older adult may experience, depending on their biological and environmental factors. Adults who experienced depression in their youth are more likely to struggle with it in their older years.

  • Major depressive disorder: Symptoms of depression that last two or more weeks, and causes interference or inability to perform routine tasks.
  • Persistent depressive disorder, aka dysthymia: Low-level depression that lasts for at least two years, but doesn’t interfere with daily tasks.
  • Depression brought about due to an illness or a prescribed medication.
  • Seasonal affective depression, symptoms of depression occurring during the winter months when the days become shorter and colder.

Seniors are at particular risk for depression for a number of reasons. Loss of confidence due to declining capabilities, increased isolation due to inability to leave the house or lack of social bonds, illnesses, medications, and more. The outward signs and symptoms of depression aren’t one size fits all as well, someone suffering from depression may have all of them, one or two of them, or in some cases hide them well enough that it appears they have none at all. These include:

  • A persistent sad, anxious or empty mood
  • Feelings of hopelessness or unexplained guilt
  • Irritability or restlessness
  • Loss of interest in once pleasurable hobbies or activities
  • Decreased energy
  • Drastic changes in sleep patterns, sleeping too much or too little, or excessive sleeping during the day
  • Drastic changes in appetite, eating far more or far less than usual, having no interest in food or eating
  • Thoughts of suicide or death

If you or an older loved one show several of these signs and symptoms, for a period lasting longer than two weeks, it might be time to speak to a health care professional. Caretakers of older adults should make sure to keep a watch eye for any of these.

Fortunately, depression is treatable in most cases. Common forms of treatment include psychotherapy, or “talk therapy”. One on one sessions with a trained counselor can help patients identify and change troubling thoughts, emotions or behaviors. Medications exist that balance hormones affecting mood, such as serotonin and dopamine. Treatment is generally effective in adults, but sometimes the correct treatment must be arrived at in a trial and error fashion. It is important to maintain clear communication with your doctor to effectively treat the issue.