Depression is not a normal part of aging

Health problems, reduced income and the death of a partner or loved one are just some of the difficulties often faced in older age.

With this in mind, it is perhaps unsurprising that around 7 million American adults aged 65 and older experience some form of depression. What is surprising is that depression among seniors is often overlooked and untreated.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), depression in older adults is frequently seen as a "normal" part of aging. In other words, people view it as a natural reaction to widowhood, chronic illness or other challenges that commonly occur later in life.

A Mental Health America survey of adults aged 65 and older found that only 38% of seniors believe depression is a health problem, while 58% believe it is normal to become depressed in old age.

As a result, the majority of older adults with depression do not receive any treatment for the condition. However, untreated depression can raise the risk for other health conditions and severely impact quality of life.

In line with Mental Health Awareness Week, we take a look at the potential causes of depression among older adults, some common signs of the condition, how it can be treated, and what seniors and their friends and family can do to help stave off depression in older age.

Risk factors for depression in older adults

As mentioned previously, adults often face stressful and emotional situations in later life, which can take their toll on mental health. For example, widowhood is most common in older age, and a third of widows or widowers meet the criteria for clinical depression within a month of their spouse's death. Of these, 50% remain clinically depressed a year later.

Health problems that are more common in older age - such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, heart disease, cancer and arthritis - can also increase the risk for later-life depression.

In older age, one may also experience changes in day-to-day life that can prove difficult to adapt to, such as retirement. And it is well established that lack of social contact can be a major risk factor for depression among seniors. Interestingly, this risk remains regardless of how often seniors have telephone or written contact with their friends and relatives.

Recognizing the signs of depression

Unfortunately, depression in older adults often goes undiagnosed. Signs of the condition are often dismissed as "normal" both by health care providers and the affected individual. They may be attributed to a coexisting condition, for example, or to grief after the loss of a loved one.

But as stated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): "Depression is a true and treatable medical condition, not a normal part of aging."

Symptoms of depression among seniors are very similar to those experienced by younger and middle-aged adults. These include:
•    Ongoing feelings of sadness, hopelessness or pessimism
•    Feelings of worthlessness or helplessness
•    Excessive sleeping, insomnia or fatigue
•    Loss of interest or pleasure in once enjoyable activities
•    Social withdrawal
•    Eating more or less than normal
•    Aches and pains that do not subside with treatment
•    Lack of concentration, poor memory and inability to make decisions
•    Irritability and restlessness
•    Thoughts of death and suicide.

While some of these signs may mimic other health conditions, the National Institute on Aging (NIA) recommend that older individuals who experience such signs should seek medical evaluation, while friends and relatives should encourage medical assessment if they spot signs of depression among loved ones.

Depression is not an inevitable part of aging

While aging is an inevitable part of life, depression is not. With early recognition, diagnosis and treatment, older adults can avoid the other emotional and physical implications of depression.

If you or someone you know is showing signs of depression, contact a health care provider for evaluation as soon as possible. As the NIA state:

"Remember, with treatment, most people will begin to feel better. Expect your mood to improve slowly. Feeling better takes time. But, it can happen."

Author: Honor Whiteman
Text abridged and adapted
With kind permission to publish from MNT
To read the complete article, please go to: Medical News Today