Is depression a normal part of getting older?

February 13, 2020 | by Carla Poindexter, LCSW
Categories: Healthy Driven Minds

Aging is a part of life we can’t avoid. Getting older often involves some degree of loss: loss of memory, hearing, eyesight, physical mobility. These and other age-related health changes are common, but challenging.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that 80 percent of older adults have at least one chronic health condition, and 50 percent have two or more. Chronic illness can put older adults at increased risk for depression.

Adults with chronic pain are three to four times more likely to be depressed. Depression is one of the most common complications of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, Parkinson’s disease, arthritis and Alzheimer’s disease. The risk of depression increases with the severity of the illness and the level of life disruption it causes, as well as personal and family history.

Unfortunately, older adults are often misdiagnosed and undertreated. The CDC reports that less than 30 percent of older adults who need treatment actually receive it. When depression surfaces in older adults, it shouldn’t be dismissed as an inevitable or natural part of aging.

For older adults, the impact of depression on overall health can be severe. Depression takes a toll on the body and increases the risk of developing several illnesses, including heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

It’s important to be on the lookout for symptoms of depression and notify your doctor if you notice a problem. There are some obvious signs of depression, such as feeling sad, empty, hopeless or flat. Other symptoms may not be as recognizable.

The first sign that something is wrong often occurs when a person suddenly stops caring for himself or herself. Other warning signs of depression in older adults include:

  • Ambivalence, loss of interest in activities once pleasurable
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details or making decisions
  • Feeling irritable, restless, anxious
  • Persistent aches and pains, headaches, cramps, digestive issues
  • Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Feeling pessimistic, hopeless, guilty
  • Lack of appetite or overeating

Depression is more than feeling sad sometimes. When symptoms linger and begin to interfere with work, family or social life, it’s time to seek help. Depression is treatable, and treatment can make a difference in your entire well-being so you can get back to life.

What else can you do to feel better as you get older? Here are seven ways to adjust to aging:

  1. Reframe. Try to reframe this life change as an opportunity to enjoy retirement and do some things you couldn’t do before.
  2. Structure your days. Schedule your days so you have a sense of purpose. Start by setting small, manageable goals that become part of your regular routine.
  3. Do something you enjoy. Creative outlets can be uplifting. Try reading, writing, painting, drawing, playing music, puzzles or games. Take an art class or a cooking class. Volunteer at a hospital, animal shelter or another organization you care about.
  4. Practice gratitude. Research suggests gratitude is associated with more positive emotions, reduced depression and a greater sense of overall well-being. Learn how to use gratitude to feel better.
  5. Practice self-care. Maintain a healthy lifestyle by eating well, getting good sleep and exercising regularly. Low-impact exercises like walking, bicycling, swimming, stretching and yoga and can help boost your mood.
  6. Connect with others. Being with others can help improve your outlook. Join a support group with other older adults. Reach out to a local church or other religious organization.
  7. Seek professional counseling. A professional geriatric counselor can help with issues that are specific to you, and help you adjust to getting older.

If symptoms persist and interfere with your everyday life, don’t dismiss them as a normal part of getting older. Noticeable changes in mood, energy level or appetite can signal a problem. Seek help from your doctor so you can embrace aging.

Older adults have unique medical and psychological needs. Learn about our geriatric services at Linden Oaks Behavioral Health, including an inpatient program dedicated to the diagnosis and treatment of adults ages 60 and older, and an inpatient Generations program for ages 50 and older who need structure, support and healing.

Explore behavioral health resources, or call 630-305-5027 for a free behavioral health assessment.

Are you at risk for depression? Take our free, online DepressionAware risk assessment.

Related blog:

Has a serious or chronic illness got you depressed?

Does chronic pain have you depressed?

Could you have low-grade depression?

Learn more from Healthy Driven Chicago:

Getting help for depression

Beating common depression stigmas

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