Major Depression — the clinical type — is not a normal part of aging. Though it can appear at any age, older adults are at an increased risk. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) distinguishes this condition from having “the blues” and likens it to other medical illnesses that are treatable, like diabetes or hypertension. Overwhelming sadness and anxiety can last for weeks at a time or much longer, with a wide range of other discouraging symptoms. Yet, there are things that can help.
Statistics tell us that later in life, at least one chronic disease will affect 80 percent of us. It naturally follows that having other illnesses, like heart disease or cancer or dealing with slow-downs in social, cognitive, or mobility functions make it likely that depression might be more common. Retirement is often a huge change in lifestyle and, while it may seem attractive to dream of the freedom to do whatever one choses, the reality may be quite different as finances, structure, and productivity limit the desire of some to do anything at all.
Long-term struggles with depression, if those have been present, exhaust a person’s resources and strength. Fatigue is a major indicator of depression though the right doctor can make the diagnosis and separate symptoms from the true cause or causes. Misdiagnoses or reluctance about seeking treatment might mask what is going on, especially if a patient is not completely truthful with his or her doctor because of fear or shame, both of which are undeserved.
Tips for coping with depression include a variety of options. At one time or another you may need all of these, but assessing immediate needs is key to understanding which to complete first.
- Depression can cause suicidal thoughts. If you or someone you care about is in crisis, call 911. Do not leave a person in this state alone.
- Visit the emergency room of a nearby hospital.
- Call your healthcare provider or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK). Keep this number with you.
- Be honest with your healthcare provider (and your family) and take any medications on time. Report side effects that bother you.
- Learn all you can about depression (and any other conditions you may be dealing with).
- Remind yourself that depression is a treatable illness and not a weakness or character flaw.
- Keep moving. Plenty of exercise, like walking, along with a healthy diet and adequate water intake, can help fight both fatigue and depression. An example of adequate water intake is drinking a glass of water every hour during the eight hours you are busiest. Water can promote a feeling of calmness and diminish anxiety.
- Understand that anxiety and other symptoms can be caused by depression.
- Consider counseling.
- Stay productive. Volunteer, do things you enjoy, and help other people. All of these cause reactions within your body that fight depression.
According to the American Psychological Association, there is evidence that body changes associated with aging may increase a person’s risk of experiencing depression. Lower concentrations of folate in the blood and nervous system, for example, may contribute to depression, mental impairment and dementia. Researchers are looking into a possible link between the onset of late-life depression and Alzheimer’s disease.
Lower quality of life, increased mortality rate, and decreased desire and ability to care for oneself that are related to depression are serious issues, but even seemingly unrelated symptoms such as insomnia and memory loss can be caused by this illness.
There are different types of depression with different causes and risk factors. The National Institute on Aging lists major depression but also persistent depressive disorder, psychotic depression, postpartum depression, and seasonal affective disorder. There is a lot to learn about managing related illnesses and disorders. Being a detective can yield many rewards.
That is why it is so important to receive competent care. A doctor will take into account less obvious symptoms like confusion or attention problems, other medical conditions, even grumpiness or trouble sleeping. Equally as confusing but no less important is determining the cause. Genes, personal history (including episodes of depression in early life), brain chemistry, and stress may trigger depression as can restricted blood flow (ischemia).
Symptoms, treatment, and therapy can add up to successful management of depression. There is no need to fight this battle alone. Doing that can have grave consequences. Enlist others to help you. Family members, friends, your medical team, support groups that can provide information and encouragement as you interact with others who are like you and who will help you are all vital elements of reclaiming the life you want.
While reading about depression is a good option, writing your own story can help you and those you love understand what you are dealing with and can communicate your wishes and progress. Track your medications so you won’t forget to take them, make a list of the symptoms you know indicate a decline for you, and empower those around you by giving them the steps they can take to assist you.