August 25, 2015 Healthy Living

Overcoming Depression in Older Adults

Getting older isn’t always easy. Your children are grown and have most likely moved out of the house, or perhaps the state or even the country. Your friends and loved ones are also presumably getting on in years and, in the worst circumstances, may have already passed away. Plus, you yourself may be experiencing some health issues that are interfering with your independence or making day-to-day life challenging.

Dealing with these changes can be difficult and it’s perfectly natural to feel sad, stressed, and lonely after losing someone you love or receiving unwelcome news about your health. While most people feel better after some time, others don’t and may develop depression.

Depression is NOT a Normal Part of Aging

Although depression is common among older adults, it should not be mistaken as a normal part of aging, according to the National Institutes of Health. Studies show that, despite having more health issues, most older adults are satisfied with their lives. When they do suffer from depression, however, it may be overlooked because older adults are sometimes less likely to talk about feeling sad or their symptoms might not be as obvious, making it more difficult for doctors to diagnose.

Possible Causes of Depression

Depression can often result from family history, life experiences (e.g., losing a loved one, financial hardship), and environment. It may also be related to physical and mental changes that come with age. For example, depression can sometimes make chronic conditions like diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s worse and vice versa. In addition, medications used to treat these illnesses can cause or intensify depression.

Common Depression Symptoms

Symptoms often vary depending on the person and can include:

  • Feeling nervous or emotionally empty
  • Feeling excessive guilt or worthlessness
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Restlessness or irritability
  • Feeling like life is not worth living
  • Sleeping too much, waking in the middle of the night, or trouble getting to sleep
  • Eating more or less than usual
  • Unplanned weight gain or loss
  • Chronic pain that doesn’t go away when treated, such as persistent headaches or stomachaches
  • Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Frequent crying
  • Difficulty focusing, remembering, or making decisions
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, or even a suicide attempt

If you experience several of the above-mentioned symptoms for more than two weeks, you may have depression and should talk to your doctor. He or she can rule out medications or another condition as the cause through a physical exam, interview, and lab tests. If these factors are eliminated as the reason for your depression, your doctor may refer you to a mental health professional, such as a psychologist, social worker, counselor, or psychiatrist. This person may ask when your symptoms started, how long they’ve lasted, their severity, whether you’ve experienced them before, and if so, whether you sought and received treatment for them.

Treating Depression

Fortunately, regardless of its severity, depression is highly treatable. As with most illnesses, the earlier your depression is treated, the better. Because older adults often experience depression along with another illness, leaving it untreated may delay recovery from or cause the other illness to worsen.

The most common methods for treating depression are medication (e.g., antidepressants), psychotherapy, or a combination of the two. What works for one person might not work for another, so it’s important to stay in close contact with your doctor so that he or she can ensure you’re getting the help you need.

Staying Active May Make a Difference

Aside from helping to improve and prevent high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis, Alzheimer’s, and several other chronic conditions, exercise can also ease anxiety and depression symptoms (and even stop them from returning) and make you feel better.

If the word “exercise” brings to mind running, swimming laps, or lifting weights, think again. Low-impact, everyday activities like walking, gardening, and cleaning the house count as physical activity and can improve your mood. Staying active can also help you:

  • Increase your confidence. Setting and achieving goals, even small ones, can give you the boost you need. Plus, you’ll feel better about your appearance, which will help lift your self-esteem and confidence.
  • Think more positively. Countless studies have shown that exercise releases endorphins in the brain that help ease depression and give you a more positive outlook.
  • Connect with others: Staying active will help you meet more people who have similar interests. CDPHP® offers members a variety of wellness options, including no-cost access to local fitness centers through our Senior Fit® program. Members can also choose from an array of free wellness classes.
  • Develop healthy coping strategies. Instead of turning to alcohol to feel better or dwelling on your depression and anxiety, you can improve your physical and emotional health by making exercise a daily part of your lifestyle.

While the Mayo Clinic and other health experts recommend 30 minutes of exercise or more three to five days a week to significantly improve depression symptoms, as little as 10 to 15 minutes at a time may make a difference. The key is to find activities that you enjoy so you don’t lose interest or get discouraged. As always, make sure you talk to your doctor before starting any exercise program.

CDPHP Resources

Members dealing with depression, or any other mental health issue, can find the support they need through our Behavioral Health Access Center. Call toll free 1-888-320-9584 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday. For after-hours assistance, call the Access Center or call the Family and Children’s Service of the Capital Region CONTACT Lifeline directly at
1-855-293-0785 to speak to a live, licensed mental health professional.


Photo by Xavi Talleda | CC BY

Suzanne Huwe
About the Author

Suzanne is senior editor for the corporate communications department at CDPHP. Prior, she worked as a national campaign coordinator at the National Association of Broadcasters in Washington, DC, and as a copy editor and special sections editor at The Tampa Tribune. Suzanne earned a bachelor’s in economics from SUNY Fredonia and a master’s in multimedia journalism from American University. When she’s not fine-tuning others’ writing and her own, Suzanne enjoys running, traveling, scuba diving, and hanging out with her dogs and husband.

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