Although not often discussed, depression in older adults is common—affecting about six million Americans over the age of 65. It’s a serious condition that can easily be overlooked by both loved ones and medical professionals.
Depression later in life often accompanies other medical conditions, which can make it difficult to identify. The condition may be expressed through physical symptoms such as fatigue, insomnia, or loss of appetite, all of which can be easily attributed to other factors. Other symptoms of depression may include aches and pains, loss of interest in hobbies, and a lack of motivation.
It may also be difficult to distinguish between depression and grief, which may be caused by the death of a spouse or friends. Grief is natural, but when it persists and includes feelings of guilt, hopelessness, or even suicide, it may actually be depression.
In older adults, depression can develop as a result of a serious health condition, such as a stroke, heart disease, cancer, or Alzheimer’s—and can also increase a person’s risk of developing certain conditions. It’s important to recognize depression as a separate issue and treat it as such.
Staying aware, active, and engaged
There are certain steps you can take to minimize the effects of depression, especially for those who may be at a higher risk.
- Walking for 30 minutes three times a week or other types of regular exercise can be even more effective than medication in treating depression.
- Consider taking folic acid and B12 supplements, as deficiencies can increase the risk of depression in older adults—but check with your doctor first.
- Review medication side effects with your doctor, as symptoms of depression may be a known effect.
- Socialize regularly. Spending time face-to-face with friends and loved ones offers support.
- Maintain a healthy diet of foods that provide nourishment and energy.
- Make sure your bedroom is dark at night and get enough sleep.
If symptoms of depression persist, your doctor can determine the best treatment approach, which might include medication, psychotherapy, electroconvulsive therapy, or a combination of treatments. Be sure to vocalize your concerns if you are experiencing symptoms of depression. Seek help and don’t be embarrassed.