Many people deal with depression in their lives, and this is especially true as we get older.
It is important to know that it is not a normal part of aging, it is a true and treatable medical condition. Depression is also more than just “having the blues”. There are many reasons that older adults are at an increased risk for experiencing depression.
One factor that increases this risk is chronic illnesses. Statistics show that three out of four Americans 65 years and older are dealing with multiple chronic illnesses (such as heart disease, lung disease, diabetes, arthritis). Many people with these illnesses become depressed. In fact, depression is one of the most common complication of chronic illnesses. It’s estimated that up to one-third of people with a serious medical condition have symptoms of depression.
Serious illness can cause tremendous life changes and limit your mobility and independence. A chronic illness can make it impossible to do the things you enjoy, and it can eat away at your self-confidence and a sense of hope in the future. It’s no surprise, then, that people with chronic illness often feel despair and sadness. In some cases, the physical effects of the condition itself or the side effects of medication lead to depression, too. Other factors may include chronic pain, social isolation, loss of independence, lack of transportation and limited family involvement.
Although older adults are at higher risk for depression, it is commonly misdiagnosed, for several reasons. Healthcare providers may mistake symptoms of depression as a natural reaction to illness or life changes, and many older adults share this belief and do not seek help. Additionally, sadness may not be the main symptom – older adults may have other, less obvious symptoms (ie: memory problems, trouble sleeping, vague complaints of pain). Older adults may also have an unwillingness to talk about their feelings, based on generational stigmas.
It’s important to know that treatment and help is available. Treatments may include Psychotherapy – individual or group “talk therapy” designed to teach new ways of thinking, behaving and changing habits. Medications, such as anti-depressants may help, as well as herbal supplements and a nutritious diet. Many people also find relief through acupuncture, hypnosis, meditation and aromatherapy.