Growing older can mean adapting to a lot of changes. Retirement can leave you feeling like your useful days are behind you. Your children may move away to pursue their own careers. You may start to lose friends you’ve known since childhood. You may find yourself taking on the role of caregiver to your spouse, which can be physically challenging and emotionally draining. At the same time, you may start to face your own new or worsening health issues, like high blood pressure or painful arthritis. At times you may feel sad about some of the changes going on in your life.
It’s normal to feel stressed, anxious, or uneasy about change. In some cases, however, a person can’t regain his or her emotional footing. When sadness lingers for a long time and interferes with day-to-day life and activities, it could be a sign of clinical depression, a serious condition that requires medical treatment.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI), 6.5 million adults age 65 or over suffer from depression. Women are twice as likely to have depression. Remember, though, depression is not a normal part of aging. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) says that studies show most older adults feel satisfied with their lives, despite having more physical ailments.
Some of the many symptoms of clinical depression may include:
• Feeling tired and run down
• Lack of interest in activities
• Problems focusing or making decisions
• Confusion and memory problems
• Feeling worthless
• Eating too much or too little
• Sleep issues, including sleeping too much or inability to sleep
• Vague pains, including headaches and stomachaches
• Thoughts of suicide
If you or someone you know may be suffering from depression, it’s important to talk to a doctor and get treatment as soon as possible. Some people are more prone to depression, just as some people are more likely to develop heart disease or diabetes. Certain medications can contribute to depression. It’s also known that chronic diseases may raise the risk of depression. Depression is an illness, not a character flaw.
The doctor may prescribe medications, which help most older adults who have depressive episodes. These medications help certain chemical levels in the brain to normalize. Make sure your doctor knows about all the drugs, vitamins, minerals, and herbal remedies you are taking, such as St. John’s wort.
Your doctor may also suggest talk therapy. According to NIH, a study examining depression treatment among older adults found that patients who got better with medication and interpersonal therapy were less likely to have the depression return if they continued their combination treatment for at least two years. In addition, NIH says that research has indicated that treating depression in older adults often improves the outcomes of co-existing medical conditions.
If you feel you are in a crisis situation, don’t wait. Tell someone who can help immediately if you are thinking about harming yourself or attempting suicide.
• Call your doctor.
• Call 911 for emergency services.
• Go to the nearest hospital emergency room.
• 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 be connected to a trained counselor at a suicide crisis center nearest you.
For more information about depression in older adults:
NIHSeniorHealth About Depression:
NIHSeniorHealth Frequently Asked Questions:
National Alliance on Mental Illness Depression in Older Persons Fact Sheet: nami.org/Template.cfm?Section=Depression&Template=/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=88876