Feelings of grief, loneliness and financial insecurity are often considered parts of the normal aging process.

Depression involves a lot more than just feeling blue, however. According to the Geriatric Mental Health Foundation or GMHF, if left untreated, severe or clinical depression may seriously impact a person’s physical and mental well-being. Reported incidences of depression among adults aged 65 and above exceed 6.5 million. Unfortunately, only 10 percent seek medical treatment or psychological support.

Standard depression symptoms include changes in sleep, appetite, energy and the ability to maintain daily routines. Older adults’ symptoms usually last much longer and tend to be triggered by particular causes or risk factors. For example, depression symptoms predictably coincide with:

  • Heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, cancers and Parkinson’s disease.
  • Increased alcohol or drug use, including over-the-counter medications.
  • Hormonal changes.
  • Medication combinations.
  • Medicines prescribed for pain, high blood pressure and arthritis.

While reviewing medical history, current symptoms and lab-test results, doctors may find a curable cause for the patient’s depression.  For example, according to the National Institute of Health, certain prescribed medications, vitamin B12 deficiency, particular viruses and thyroid disorders can cause depression-like symptoms. Because of these and other factors, failure to treat the symptoms properly may delay recovery and worsen outcomes.

If a doctor does not find one of these causes, then psychological counseling, anti-depressant medications or a combination of both is frequently the next step.

According to GMHF, many older adults can fully recover from depression. A healthy lifestyle not only improves one’s quality of life, but is also one of the strongest disease-prevention strategies. Consider the following:

  • Keep names and phone numbers of good friends and family members whom you can talk to and who can help you. If you have been diagnosed with depression, ask them to listen to you and not to judge or criticize.
  • Talking with those who have had similar experiences and feelings can be very helpful because they will understand how you feel.
  • Pace yourself—do not expect to do everything that you did before you had depression. Set a realistic schedule.
  • Think positively and try to avoid blaming yourself or expecting failure.   Identify areas of your life that are positive.
  • List pleasant activities and routines that you enjoyed before you became depressed. Once identified, start to return to that routine. Choose one activity each week.
  • Get exercise and spend time outdoors. Exercise and natural light can be effective natural treatments for depression.
  • Eat a healthy diet and limit your intake of sugar, caffeine, alcohol and salt.
  • Be patient – it  will take time to get better.

GMHF was established by the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry to raise awareness of mental health disorders affecting the elderly, eliminate the stigma of mental illness and treatment, promote healthy aging strategies and increase access to quality mental health care for the elderly. To receive a copy of its “Depression Recovery Toolkit,” click here.