Depression is not a normal part of aging.
However, depression is one of the conditions most commonly associated with suicide in older adults and is often under-recognized and under-treated. Although only about 1 to 2% of older adults have major depression at some time, about 15% experience symptoms of depression. Also, many of these symptoms may be looked over due to similar symptoms caused by other health problems. For instance, symptoms such as fatigue, sleeping difficulty, cognitive issues and bodily complaints may be incorrectly interpreted as a sign of aging rather than of depression. Older adults also may express signs of depression differently than younger adults. For example older adults may communicate depression through physical complaints rather than through expressing emotional difficulties. However, depression in older adults is not significantly different than those in younger adults, meaning there is no need for different assessment tools.
Emotional responses of sadness, grief and melancholy are normal. However, persistent feelings of depression that impacts a person’s ability to function is not. As we age, we may experience chronic or debilitating illnesses, loss of friends and loved ones, job retirement, financial issues and/or feelings of loss on control which can weigh heavy on our mental health and emotional well-being. For instance, weakening eyesight and hearing loss as well as the difficulty of getting around may cause feelings of insecurity, unhappiness or fear. All which could lead to social isolation, lowered self-esteem and even hopelessness. Another prime example is the transition from many years in the workplace to retirement with a potential loss of daily meaning or activity. These experiences can readily lead to chronic depression.
Also, there is some evidence that natural body changes associated with aging may increase a person’s risk of experiencing depression. For instance, studies suggest that lower concentrations of folate in the blood and nervous system may contribute to depression, mental impairment, and dementia. Researchers also suspect that there may be a link between the onset of depression in older adults and Alzheimer’s disease.
Regardless of its cause, depression can have serious physical effects on older people. The mortality rate for elderly men and women suffering from both depression and feelings of loneliness is higher than for those who report satisfaction with their lives.
So, what are some of the symptoms of depression? Symptoms include:
· difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
· fatigue and decreased energy
· feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and/or helplessness
· feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
· insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
· irritability, restlessness
· loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
· overeating or appetite loss
· persistent body aches or pains
· persistent sad, anxious, or "empty" feelings
- thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts
Depression can and should be treated. It is important to take care of your mental health just like you would treat physical health issues. Untreated depression can worsen daily health issues, create problems with your relationships, increase chances of drug/alcohol abuse and lead a person to death by suicide.
Talk to you doctor, therapist or other health professional to get more information and/or a referral to someone that can help you find treatment.
For local Ulster County residents contact the MHA at (845) 399-9090 x113 for a list of mental health providers in your area.