In news of Robin Williams tragic passing, conversations about suicide and depression have begun to garner more attention. Although Williams’ depression was diagnosed early on, depression among seniors is often overlooked or misjudged as grief. As you age, many aspects of life are prone to major changes: you have retired and no longer have the bustling of work to keep you occupied; your close friends and loved ones have started passing on; and you may have begun accruing your fair share of medical problems.
These changes can be difficult to face, but on their own they don’t lead to depression. Depression is a treatable medical condition that affects 7 million of the nation’s 39 million seniors aged 65 and older. However, 58 percent of seniors believe it is normal for people to get depressed as they grow older, leading only 10 percent of older adults to receive treatment for their clinical depression.
Depression is characterized by an imbalance of chemicals in the brain, and therefore should never be considered a personal weakness or a character flaw. In fact, men and women of all ages, genders, races, ethnic groups, and socioeconomic statuses can experience depression and there is no one cause to the illness. It can be attributed to genetic, biological or neurological factors; other illnesses; life changes; side effects to medications; or even a combination.
Sometimes it’s difficult to distinguish between grief and depression. Grief involves a variety of emotions, and a mix of good and bad days. So, if youre in the middle of the grieving process, you will still experience moments of pleasure and happiness. Additionally, grief lasts for a much shorter time frame than depression.
How do you know if you’re suffering from depression? The symptoms of depression present differently in an older adult than they do in a younger person. At times, grief can evolve into clinical depression, which requires treatment. If you suffer from more than one of the following, you may be suffering from depression:
- Disturbed sleep (sleeping too much or too little)
- Changes in appetite (weight loss or gain)
- Physical aches and pain
- Lack of energy and motivation
- Irritability and intolerance
- Loss of interest or pleasure
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Difficulties with concentration or decision making
- Noticeable restlessness or slow movement
- Recurring thoughts of death or suicide
- Changed sex drive
You don’t have to experience all of these symptoms to have depression. People experience depression in many different ways; one person may lack motivation and sleep excessively, another may develop anxiety and lose sleep. It is also important to note that although depression and sadness seem to go hand in hand, many depressed seniors claim not to feel sad at all. Instead, they complain of low motivation, lack of energy or physical problems physical complaints such as arthritic pain or worsening headaches are actually the prevailing symptoms of depression among the elderly.
If you suspect you have depression, seek professional help and mention your concerns to your doctor. Becoming more active physically, mentally and socially also can help. Some ideas include:
- Building exercise into your life: park farther from the store; take the stairs instead of the elevator; do some light housework; or enjoy a short walk
- Connect with others face-to-face as much as possible
- Try to reduce your stress level by bringing your life into balance
- Sleep seven to nine hours of every night
- Maintain a healthy diet: avoid too much sugar and junk food, and choose healthy, nourishing foods instead
- Volunteer your time
- Add a pet into your life
- Learn a new skill
- Create as many opportunities as you can to laugh
With some of these extra activities and the professional help of your doctor, you can readily curb depression.