Depression not a normal symptom of aging

As we get older we know more of those whose names appear on the obituary page … acquaintances, friends, family, public figures. The road ahead of us doesn’t stretch out as far as it used to do. There are so many dreams yet to try. The spirit is willing but the body is weak (and weakening) for many elderly persons. And, sometimes the spirit is not so willing. Though depression is not a normal part of aging, it is a common problem among the aging population.

“Studies show that most older adults feel satisfied with their lives, despite having more illnesses or physical problems,” according to the National Institute on Aging (NIA). “However, important life changes that happen as we get older may cause feelings of uneasiness, stress and sadness.

The Harvard Medical School advises that overall health and independent living affect a person’s mental condition. “Although estimates differ depending on how depression is defined,” about 1-5 percent of elderly people living in the community suffer from depression, compared with about 12 percent of the elderly who are hospitalized, and about 14 percent of those who require health assistance at home. Various studies have found that 29 percent to 52 percent of elderly people living in nursing homes are depressed, as are 39 percent to 47 percent of those being treated for cancer, heart attack, or stroke.”

It may be difficult to see the symptoms of depression in older people when they are dealing with other health issues. Depression in older people is different than that of younger persons, says NIA.

The first thing people think of as indicative of depression is sadness. They may feel tired. They have trouble sleeping. They seem grumpy and irritable. What may surprise you is that depression sometimes appears to look like a brain disorder like Alzheimer’s, NIA says.

Cancer, heart disease, or stroke may lead to depression. Some medications have side effects that cause depression. Depression may occur in those persons who have a family history of the disorder. Someone who struggled with depression at a younger age are more likely to have issues later in their life as well. Brain chemistry is related to depression, too. And stress. A troubled relationship, losing a loved one, any situation that raises a person’s stress level, can lead to depression.

“Depression is a real illness,” says NIA. Treatment varies from one person to the next, but it can be treated. Sometimes it’s difficult to talk about those deepest feelings. Nobody wants to look weak or flawed. And depression may not be something a person can “just snap out of it.”

“Left untreated, depression increases the likelihood of disability, placement in a nursing home, or death from any cause. Suicide risk also increases with age,” says Harvard Medical School, which lists other causes of depression: cardiovascular disease, dementia (including pseudo-dementia), hypothyroidism, psychosis and vitamin B deficiency. These are not character flaws or weakness. These are real medical conditions that affect health and well being.

No one has to suffer depression from any cause.

Addiction has no address, but Family Recovery Center does. For more information about the education, prevention and treatment programs for substance abuse and related behavioral issues, contact the agency at 964 N. Market St., Lisbon; phone, 330-424-1468; or e-mail, FRC is funded, in part, by United Way of Northern Columbiana County.