Depression is not a natural part of growing old. Depression in older adults, or in anyone, is a serious illness. Some groups are at higher risk, but the average older person is not depressed any more than a young person. Depression affects about 7 million out of 39 million adults older than age 65 in the U.S.
“According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the exact cause of depression is unknown. Some depressions are believed to be biologically or genetically based, and it does run in families. However many other factors may play a role in depression, such as trauma, loss, chronic stress, and early childhood experiences,” says Frank Sergi, Ph.D., MBA, Senior Mental Health Counselor at Holy Redeemer Counseling Center.
Look for the Signs
Depression is often not diagnosed because of stereotypes that family, caregivers, or even healthcare providers have that older adults are depressed in general. Older adults may mask their depression by complaining about a physical problem. This makes it harder to diagnose.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, these are typical signs of depression:
- Sleep problems – this includes too little, too much, or rising earlier than desired
- Decreased pleasure and interest in previously enjoyed activities
- Decreased energy or concentration
- Increase or decrease in appetite
- Feelings of hopelessness or helplessness
- Thoughts of death or suicide
- Self-destructive and suicidal behavior
“Depression affects people in different ways. For instance, excess irritability is a common manifestation of depression, especially in males. For some, depression is primarily experienced as anxiety,” says Dr. Sergi.
Healthcare providers look for symptoms of depression that continue for weeks at a time. These can include certain medicines or medical conditions. Medicine, psychotherapy, or a combination of both can be effective in treating depression.
You can help prevent depression by staying active and being connected to other people through family, community activities, senior groups, or a religious affiliation.
“If you notice signs of depression in yourself, a friend, or a family member, don’t wait until it becomes severe,” says Dr. Sergi. Talk with your healthcare provider about your own symptoms. Or talk with the person with depression. Encourage him or her to speak with a healthcare provider and seek treatment from a mental health professional.
Could You or a Loved One Be Depressed?
If you think that you or a loved one might be experiencing depression, make an appointment with a licensed therapist at the Holy Redeemer Counseling Center at 215-914-4190 or visit holyredeemer.com/counselingcenter.