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Posted: April 24, 2009

Keeping Seniors Healthy

Even With Life's Many Pressures, Depression Not Normal Part of Aging

Q. I see how my dad just mopes around at times, acting sort of depressed, and it makes me wonder whether depression is just a “normal” part of aging?

A. There are a lot of problems to face as you get older. There are losses of all kinds that can get you down. And feeling blue for a while is a normal part of living at any age.

But unrelenting depression is not normal. If your dad feels this way, you should seek medical attention for him. Most people get better if they treat their depression.

There are many causes of depression. Some of them are the natural consequences of being older: a health crisis or death, the loss of physical or mental capacities, or just being a stressed-out caregiver.

Seniors usually rebound from a period of sadness. However, if your loved one is suffering from “clinical depression” and don’t get them help, their symptoms might last months, or even years.

The following are common signs of depression. If you spot several of these, and they last for more than two weeks, get treatment: anxiety, fatigue, loss of interest or pleasure, sleep problems, eating too much or too little, abnormal crying, aches that can’t be treated successfully, diminished concentration or memory, irritability, thoughts of death or suicide, and feelings of despair, guilt and being worthless.

Depression is a serious illness. It can lead to suicide. Don’t waste time; find help.

Start with your loved one’s doctor. The doctor should check to see if the depression could be caused by a health problem (such as hypothyroidism or vitamin B12 deficiency) or a medicine your loved one is taking.

After a complete exam, the doctor may suggest that you and your loved one talk to a social worker, mental health counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist. Doctors specially trained to treat depression in older people are called “geriatric psychiatrists.”

Support groups can provide new coping skills or social support, if your loved one is dealing with a major life change. A doctor might suggest that they go to a local senior center, volunteer service, or nutrition program. Several kinds of talk therapies also work well.

Antidepressant drugs can help. These medications can improve your mood, sleep, appetite, and concentration.

Also, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is an option. It may be recommended when medicines can’t be tolerated or when a quick response is needed.

So, what can be done to lower the risk of depression?

Nurture your family ties and friendships; they are lifelines for you and the loved one you’re caring for. Hobbies keep a mind and body active. Exercise is a mood-elevator. Eat a balanced diet. Get outdoors to absorb sunlight and breathe fresh air. Take naps.

Remember, with treatment, most people will find positive thoughts gradually replacing negative thoughts. And you can aid this process by helping your loved one catch himself when he is dwelling on the negative and urge that he shift gears to sunnier thoughts.

Fred Cicetti is a freelance writer who specializes in health. He has been writing professionally since 1963. Before he began freelancing, he was a reporter and columnist for three daily newspapers in New Jersey. He has written two published novels: Saltwater Taffy, and Local Angles. You can send your health-related questions to Fred at

© 2009 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.
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