Dealing with depression as you age
The death of loved one, job loss, financial problems, divorce or being verbally or physically abused all can have a bad effect on us.
As we age, other stressors can affect us negatively: chronic pain that's not going away; feeling isolated and alone as children move away; a spouse or friends dying; and losing your independence because you're having trouble getting around, caring for yourself or driving.
Physical illness and fading memory also begin to erode our self confidence and sense of well-being. Our sense of control over our lives changes and may cause some of us to feel a sadness that doesn't leave.
There are certain physical issues like Parkinson's, thyroid disease, heart problems, vitamin B12 deficiency, cancer or stroke that can increase the risk for depression. Symptoms of depression can also occur with dementia (Alzheimer's) at any stage.
Certain medications can slow you down or interfere with your thinking. Medicines that can cause or worsen depression include those for blood pressure (clonidine), ulcers (Tagamet/Zantac), beta blockers, heart drugs containing reserpine, steroids like prednisone, sleeping pills, cholesterol drugs, tranquilizers, pain killers, arthritis drugs, calcium channel blockers, estrogens and drugs for Parkinson's.
You might feel depressed by "not being yourself." You assume that "things are just the way they're going to be" because you're older when it might just be your medications that need adjustment.
Older people often use alcohol to self-treat the depression, but this makes matters worse. Although we usually think of sadness with depression, some seniors state they don't feel sad at all. Instead, they note low motivation, lack of energy, a sense of emptiness or an increase in physical complaints beyond those one would expect.
Letting depression go untreated can have disastrous consequences. The highest rate of suicide in the U.S. is among older white men. Depression is the single most significant risk factor for suicide in the elderly population. Elderly persons are more likely to seek treatment for other physical aliments than they are to seek treatment for depression. Often, a spouse or friend sees a change in their loved one and pushes the person to get help.
Whether you're 18 or 80, you don't have to live with depression. Senior depression can be treated. With the right support, treatment and self-help strategies you can feel better, and live a happy and vibrant life. Help can consist of counseling at your church or with a therapist skilled in dealing with the special issues of growing older.
Many times, medications called antidepressants that are not habit-forming or sedating can help return your functioning back to your previous self. Your physician can often suggest someone who might be helpful in treating depression.
Remember that feeling sad or not yourself is not an inevitable process in growing older. Depression can take many forms from physical problems to side effects from medications to feeling alone and isolated. Don't avoid getting help if you need it. It is not a sign of weakness but rather a belief in yourself and a wish to be at your best.
Stan Kapuchinski, M.D. is a psychiatrist practicing at Harborside Psychiatric Services in Punta Gorda. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 941-205-3333.