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Senior Citizen's Guide to Pittsburgh

Depression
Don't Let the Blues Hang Around

There are many reasons why depression in older people is often missed or untreated. As a person ages, the signs of depression are much more varied than at younger ages. It can appear as increased tiredness, or it can be seen as grumpiness or irritability. Depression can be tricky to recognize in older adults. Confusion or attention problems caused by depression can sometimes look like Alzheimer's disease or other brain disorders.

Mood changes and signs of depression can be caused by medicines older people may take for arthritis, high blood pressure, or heart disease. It can be hard for a doctor to detect depression. The good news is that people who are depressed usually feel better with the right treatment.

What Causes Depression?

There is no one cause of depression. For some people, a single event can bring on the illness. Depression often strikes people who felt fine but who suddenly find they are dealing with a death in the family or a serious illness. For some people, changes in brain chemistry can affect mood and cause depression. Sometimes those under a lot of stress, like caregivers, can feel depressed. Others become depressed for no clear reason.

People with serious illnesses sometimes become depressed. They worry about how their illness will change their lives. They might be tired and not able to deal with something that makes them sad.

Genetics, too, can play a role. Studies show that depression may run in families. And, depression tends to be a disorder that occurs more than once. Many older people who have been depressed in the past will be at an increased risk.

What to Look For

How do you know when you need help? After a period of feeling sad, older people usually adjust and regain their emotional balance. But, if you are suffering from clinical depression and don't get help, your depression might last for weeks, months, or even years. Here is a list of the most common signs of depression. If you have several of these, and they last for more than 2 weeks, see a doctor.

  • An "empty" feeling, ongoing sadness, and anxiety
  • Tiredness, lack of energy
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in everyday activities, including sex
  • 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; a suicide attempt

Being "down in the dumps" over a period of time is not a normal part of getting older. But it is a common problem, and medical help may be needed. For most people, depression will get better with treatment. "Talk" therapy, medicine, or other treatment methods can ease the pain of depression. You do not need to suffer. Remember, with treatment, most people will find that positive thoughts will gradually replace the negative thoughts that resulted from depression. Expect your mood to improve slowly. Feeling better takes time. But it can happen.

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