Depression is particularly prevalent--and overlooked--in older adults. Despite the high incidence in seniors, it's definitely not a normal part of aging.

Seniors often suffer from serious or chronic health conditions. This makes it difficult to separate depression from drug side effects or other disease-related symptoms, so depression often goes undiagnosed. Health professionals, trained to deal with physical disorders, are often not equipped to recognize the symptoms of depression. Likewise, older adults may express depressive feelings as physical symptoms, such as aches and pains, digestive problems, insomnia, or anxiety.

It's easy for seniors to hide their depression. One of the two diagnostic indicators of depression is profound sadness that persists two or more weeks. However, seniors may be depressed without being sad. Instead, they lose interest and pleasure in activities they once enjoyed and found meaningful. Seniors are also less likely to acknowledge symptoms of depression or to seek help. Many seniors suffer from depressive symptoms that don't meet the clinical diagnosis of depression, but nonetheless, reduce their ability to enjoy life.

The persistent misunderstanding of melancholy as a normal part of aging puts seniors at great risk for prolonged, untreated depression, lowering their life expectancy and greatly compromising their quality of life. When accompanied by serious chronic illness, depression puts them at greater risks for disability and premature death. Furthermore, the rate of suicide is disproportionately high in the elderly.

Fortunately, mental health professionals can treat depression in the elderly. Psychotherapy, medications, or both are very effective in treating depression. Seniors can take steps to reduce their risk of developing depression by staying physically active and engaging in meaningful activities that give their life a sense of meaning and value. Some seniors develop skills to manage their disturbing moods, and many turn to family, friends, clergy, or community resources to help them.

Be aware of the symptoms of depression so you can recognize it. Typical depressive symptoms may include feelings of pessimism, guilt, shame, perceptions of inadequacy, lack of energy, social withdrawal, difficulty concentrating, confusion, or memory problems. If you suspect that an older adult is experiencing depression, encourage him to seek professional help, and if he suffers from pain due to illness, make sure he talks to his physician about pain management techniques.


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Volunteer Behavioral Health Care System. "Older Adults: Depression and Suicide Facts." Web. 13 September 2005.

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