Everyone experiences sadness now and then. Sometimes these feelings are triggered by obvious occurrences, and sometimes they simply come and go. Though it is not unusual to feel melancholy now and then, it is important to recognize when these emotions become a part of your daily life. Feeling consistently depressed is called clinical depression, and it can change the way you think and the way you experience emotions, and can have long-term effects on your overall wellbeing. Late-life depression affects about 6 million Americans age 65 and older. With proper treatment, however, many people find success in combating their depression.

Detecting depression in older people is sometimes difficult, as the signs can vary from those of a younger person. Sometimes as we age, we appear to feel tired, have trouble sleeping or seem irritable when we are depressed. Confusion or attention problems caused by depression can sometimes look like brain disorders commonly found in older age groups. Mood changes can also be caused by medicines that people take for arthritis, high blood pressure or heart disease. The stigma attached to mental illness and treatment is also stronger among the elderly than younger people, which can keep them from acknowledging that they are depressed, even to themselves.

If you or a loved one is experiencing any of the following signs for more than two weeks, you should talk to your health care provider about the possibility of depression.

  • An “empty” feeling, ongoing sadness, and anxiety
  • Tiredness, lack of energy
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in everyday activities
  • Sleep problems, including trouble getting to sleep, very early morning waking and sleeping too much
  • Eating more or less than usual
  • Crying too often or too much
  • Aches and pains that don’t go away when treated
  • A hard time focusing, remembering or making decisions
  • Feeling guilty, helpless, worthless or hopeless
  • Being irritable
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
  • Some people believe that increased feelings of sadness are just a normal part of aging, but this is not true. Depression is often overlooked in older age groups, but ignoring it can have severe consequences. Adults 65 and older have a suicide rate that is higher than that of the national population, and some studies show that those with depression have a more difficult time recovering from physical illnesses.

    The first steps in treating depression are in admitting that you or your loved one needs help. Many of us have difficulty discussing the topic of mental health, and misconceptions about depression being a sign of weakness, or being something we can “snap out of,” prevent people from reaching out. Once the issue is addressed, however, there are many things your health care provider can do to assist you. They can help you determine if your depression is caused by a health problem or a medication you are taking, and they can get you in touch with a mental health provider.

    With treatment, many people are able to feel better. There is no reason to suffer alone with depression, especially when the rewards for reaching out can be great.

    John Hayes, M.D., is located at Keizer Health Center in Keizer. To schedule an appointment, call 503-779-2271.

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