Q. Is depression just a “normal” part of aging?
There are a lot of problems to face as you get older. There are losses of all kinds that can get you down. And feeling blue for a while is a normal part of living at any age.
But, unrelenting depression is not normal. If you feel this way, you should seek medical attention. Most people get better if they treat their depression.
There are many causes of depression. Some of them are the natural consequences of being older: a health crisis or death, the loss of physical or mental capacities, or being a stressed-out caregiver.
Seniors usually rebound from a period of sadness. However, if you are suffering from “clinical depression” and don’t get help, your symptoms might last months, or even years.
The following are common signs of depression. If you have several of these, and they last for more than two weeks, get treatment: anxiety, fatigue, loss of interest or pleasure, sleep problems, eating too much or too little, abnormal crying, aches that can’t be treated successfully, diminished concentration or memory, irritability, thoughts of death or suicide, and feelings of despair, guilt and being worthless.
Depression is a serious illness. It can lead to suicide. Don’t waste time; find help.
Start with your family doctor. The doctor should check to see if your depression could be caused by a health problem (such as hypothyroidism or vitamin B12 deficiency) or a medicine you are taking.
After a complete exam, your doctor may suggest you talk to a social worker, mental health counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist. Doctors specially trained to treat depression in older people are called “geriatric psychiatrists.”
Support groups can provide new coping skills or social support if you are dealing with a major life change. A doctor might suggest that you go to a local senior center, volunteer service, or nutrition program. Several kinds of talk therapies work well.
Antidepressant drugs can help. These medications can improve your mood, sleep, appetite, and concentration.
Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is an option. It may be recommended when medicines can’t be tolerated or when a quick response is needed.
What can be done to lower the risk of depression?
Nurture your family ties and friendships; they are your lifelines. Hobbies keep your mind and body active. Exercise is a mood-elevator. Eat a balanced diet. Get outdoors to absorb sunlight and breathe fresh air. Take naps.
Remember, with treatment, most people will find positive thoughts gradually replacing negative thoughts. And you can help this process by catching yourself when you are dwelling on the negative and shifting gears to sunnier thoughts.
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