Are the Golden Years Turning a bit Blue?

Senior woman suffering from depression

Recognize the Signs of Depression and Kick it for Good.

When we’re younger, we have this fantasy that retirement and the “golden years” will be full of fun times and free of constraints. We relish the thought of not having to report to work each day, spending time on our favorite hobbies and activities and enjoying life the way we see fit.

But then reality kicks in. Retirement can bring with it a whole host of unexpected issues, which can lead to depression in some seniors and boomers. Some seniors and boomers may believe that becoming depressed as we age is a normal occurrence.

However, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, depression should not be a normal or accepted part of the aging process. While it is true that seniors can be more susceptible to depression, it is not considered a normal part of aging.

Depression is more than just having the occasional blues or the kind of sadness we may feel during the grieving process when losing a loved one. Depression is a real medical condition that is treatable once diagnosed by a healthcare provider.

Signs of Depression

So how do you know if what you’re experiencing is true depression, or just being a bit blue or lonely as you adjust to your new life as a retiree?

The CDC provides the following guidelines for determining depression in older adults:

  • The feelings of depression, sadness or anxiety have lasted for several weeks;
  • The person experiences feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism;
  • The person is irritable or restless;
  • The person has lost interest in activities or hobbies they previously enjoyed;
  • They are easily tired and express they have decreased energy;
  • They experience difficulty concentrating, remembering details or making decisions;
  • They experience insomnia, early-morning wakefulness or are sleeping excessively;
  • They experience a loss of appetite or engage in overeating;
  • They have thoughts of suicide or have attempted to harm themselves; and
  • They complain of persistent aches and pains, headaches, cramps or digestive problems that do not resolve with appropriate treatment.

According to Mental Health America, more than 2 million Americans aged 65 or older suffer from a form of depression.

Depression can be more common in older adults who also have underlying health conditions. The CDC reports that at least 80 percent of older adults have at least one chronic health condition, and 50 percent have at least two or more chronic health conditions.

Seniors and boomers who find themselves limited in the physical ability to engage in activities due to illness or injury also are more likely to become depressed, especially if they are homebound due to their limitations.

Depression often is misdiagnosed in seniors and boomers because it does not present in the same way it does in younger people. Healthcare providers may confuse a senior or boomer’s depression symptoms as a natural reaction to illness or the life changes that occur during the aging process. When this kind of misdiagnosis occurs, the medical professional is less likely to recommend appropriate treatment for the depression. Some seniors and boomers also share in this kind of thinking, and may avoid seeking help if they feel that being a “bit blue” is normal as they age.

In a recent study, it conducted, Mental Health America determined that approximately 68 percent of adults aged 65 and older knew very little or nothing at all about depression. Of those polled during the study, 38 percent did not see depression as a real “health” problem.

If you meet any of the signs and symptoms listed above, please consult a healthcare professional. If your regular primary care doctor is unable to assist you, consider consulting a mental health professional, who is more qualified in recognizing and diagnosing depressing at all stages of life.

Treating Depression

Before any treatment can occur, the first step is to see a healthcare provider and receive an appropriate diagnosis. It is important to mention any medications you are taking at the time you are being evaluated for depression because some medications – including Beta-blockers, Corticosteroids, Parkinson’s drugs, Anticonvulsants, and Statins – are known for causing depression in older adults.

Once you have had an evaluation, the healthcare provider will work with you to determine the best course of action. Not everyone who is depressed will respond to the same kind of treatment for their depression. If it is a medication you currently are taking that is causing the depression, the dosage may need to be adjusted or the medication may need to be replaced with another kind. Underlying causes for the depression need to first be identified before an appropriate treatment can be determined.

For instance, if depression is related to a chemical imbalance, medication may be the best option for treatment. However, if the depression is being caused by an environmental factor, counseling with a mental health professional may be the first course of action.

Medications, known as antidepressants, can work well to treat depression when taken correctly. They may take a few weeks to kick in, and they often come with side effects that include headaches, nausea, difficulty sleeping, agitation and sexual problems. If any of these side effects occur and do not resolve as your body adjusts to the medication, consult your doctor.

Psychotherapy also can help treat depression by teaching new ways of thinking and behaving, as well as changing habits that may be causing the depression.

Among some of the most common habits that can lead to depression in seniors and boomers is isolating yourself from others. At the Upside of Downsizing conferences, we discuss ways to help keep you active in life and involved in the community to prevent that feeling of isolation. Consider attending an upcoming conference to learn more.

Mary Spann

Mary Spann

Mary Spann is the founder and president of Upside of Downsizing®. In addition to her 26 years in construction, interior design, and home staging, Mary also holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work, making her uniquely qualified to assist with the downsizing process. Mary learned the key components of construction and interior design at an early age. Her father was a prominent custom home builder in Minnesota and Texas, and her mother was a successful interior designer and a real estate broker.
Mary Spann
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