Depression in Older Adults

“There is a Catskill eagle in some souls that can alike dive down into the blackest gorges, and soar out of them again and become invisible in the sunny spaces… Even in his lowest swoop the mountain eagle is still higher than other birds upon the plain, even though they soar. ”
― Herman Melville, Moby-Dick

Occasionally feeling “the blues” is natural, especially in older adults dealing with changes such as the death of a loved one or a newly diagnosed illness. These feelings of sadness usually result from a specific event or loss. Such feelings are often fleeting, however, and we are still able to find joy in other areas of our lives.

Depression is different from these temporary bouts of sadness, and is a medical condition not normally a part of aging. An individual with depression has stronger feelings of sadness that are long-lasting and recurrent. He or she may also experience symptoms like fatigue and decreased energy, persistent aches or pains, irritability, and suicidal thoughts.

Depression is not caused by personal weakness or lack of willpower, and it can affect anyone. Heredity, illness, and medications can increase the risk of depression. Older adults are especially at increased risk for depression, and are often misdiagnosed and undertreated because their symptoms are mistaken as natural reactions to illness/life changes that occur with aging.

Also, today’s older adults grew up with a very prevalent stigma surrounding mental illness and may not voluntarily seek mental health evaluation. This makes it even more important to recognize the signs of depression in older adults. Depending on the type and severity of depression diagnosed, the treatment usually includes psychotherapy and/or medication.

Self-help in conjunction with medication and professional help can be surprisingly effective as well. Here are some self-help tips:
• Be active. Regular physical activity can lift your mood and increase your energy level.
• Break up large tasks into smaller ones, and set reachable goals for yourself.
• Talk to a trusted person about your feelings, and seek out positive people.

If you are concerned that you or a loved one may be experiencing signs of depression, see a health care provider for appropriate treatment.

Lorig, K. (2012). Living with chronic conditions. Boulder, CO: Bull Publishing Company

This article was written as part of the Geriatrics Workforce Enhancement Program (GWEP) and was previously published in the Bronx Times.