Is depression a normal consequence of aging? In a word, no. Depression is not a natural part of aging any more than it is a natural part of any other life stage. Depression is an illness that requires medical attention.
Sometimes depression in the older adult is difficult to pinpoint because it often shares symptoms with other medical conditions. In fact, older adults are more likely to complain about physical problems (aches and pains) rather than emotions.
Depression is often related to social isolation or interaction. Older adults are often more isolated because of a physical illness, lack of mobility or because they can no longer drive. The highest rates of depression occur among hospitalized seniors and those living in nursing homes.
Grief is a common psychological cause for depression in older adults. As people age, they begin to lose friends, relatives and siblings, their social circle gets smaller and they miss loved ones and friends terribly. The most devastating loss to the elderly is the loss of a spouse.
“After my mother died I watched my father slip away. He lost interest in things he used to enjoy and started talking about how he no longer wanted to live. I knew he was lonely and depressed but I thought these were normal reactions to his life situation. When his doctor told me he was suffering from depression I was so surprised. I didn’t realize that older people could get real depression. Now that he’s getting treatment for his depression he has started to enjoy life again and his grandkids are thrilled to have him around.” – Bruce, 53
Depression in older people is sometimes harder to recognize than in younger people because it often co-occurs with medical, psychiatric and substance abuse disorders. When an elderly person is diagnosed with depression, it is important for them to realize that it is treatable.
Research indicates that the best long term outcomes for the treatment of depression in older adults is medication, therapy and social supports. Whether depression is caused by physical, psychological or social factors, the plan for treatment should address all of them.
For a list of places where you can get treatment and/or find a doctor, click here.
If you aren’t sure where to begin, you can learn more about your choices and figure out which treatments might be best for you. To learn more click here.
You can also complete this scaleand take it to your health care professional.
Did you know?
Suicide is five times more likely in individuals over 60 years of age than in younger groups. Suicide is more likely to occur in those living alone.