Depression is a true and treatable medical condition, not a normal part of aging. However older adults are at an increased risk for experiencing depression. If you are concerned about a loved one, offer to go with him or her to see a health care provider to be diagnosed and treated, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Depression is not just having “the blues” or the emotions we feel when grieving the loss of a loved one. It is a true medical condition that is treatable, like diabetes or hypertension.
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
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness and/or helplessness
- Irritability, restlessness
- Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable
- Fatigue and decreased energy
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering details and making decisions
- Insomnia, early–morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
- Overeating or appetite loss
- Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts
- Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not get better, even with treatment
Depression is often a lifelong condition in which periods of wellness alternate with recurrence of illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Left untreated, depression can lead to serious impairment in daily functioning and even suicide, which is the 10th-leading cause of death in the United States.
How is Depression Different for Older Adults?
- Older adults are at increased risk. We know that about 80 percent of older adults have at least one chronic health condition, and 50 percent have two or more, reports the CDC. Depression is more common in people who also have other illnesses (such as heart disease or cancer) or whose function becomes limited.
- Older adults are often misdiagnosed and undertreated. Healthcare 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. Older adults themselves often share this belief and do not seek help because they don’t understand that they could feel better with appropriate treatment.
How Do I Find Help?
Most older adults see an improvement in their symptoms when treated with antidepression drugs, psychotherapy, or a combination of both. If you are concerned about a loved one being depressed, offer to go with him or her to see a health care provider to be diagnosed and treated.
If you or someone you care about is in crisis, please seek help immediately.
- Call 911
- Visit a nearby emergency department or your health care provider’s office
- Call the toll-free, 24-hour hotline of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255); TTY: 1-800-799-4TTY (4889) to talk to a trained counselor.
For a list of other web resources, go here.