Why It May Be More Than "The Blues"

Everyone feels blue now and then. It’s part of life. But if you no longer enjoy activities that you usually like, there may be a more serious problem. Feeling depressed without letup can change the way you think and the way you experience emotions. Doctors call this clinical depression.

It’s important to remember that being “down in the dumps” over a period of time isn’t a normal part of getting older. But it is a common problem, and medical help may be needed. For most people, depression gets better with treatment. Counseling (talk therapy), medicine, or other treatments can ease the pain of depression.

There are many reasons why depression in older people is often missed or untreated. As a person ages, the signs of depression vary more than those of a younger person. Sometimes older people who are depressed appear to feel tired, have trouble sleeping, or seem grumpy and irritable. Confusion or attention problems caused by depression can sometimes look like Alzheimer’s disease or other brain disorders. Mood changes and signs of depression can be caused by medicines older people may take for arthritis, high blood pressure, or heart disease. But the good news is that people who are depressed usually feel better with the right treatment.

What Causes Depression?

There is no one cause of depression. For some people, a single event can bring on the illness. Depression often strikes people who felt fine but who suddenly find they are dealing with a death in the family. For some people, changes in the brain can affect mood and cause depression. Sometimes, those under a lot of stress, like caregivers, can feel depressed. People may be diagnosed with a life-changing health problem such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease. Others become depressed for no clear reason.

Genetics, too, can play a role. Studies show that depression may run in families. Children of depressed parents may be at a higher risk for depression. Also, depression tends to be a disorder that occurs more than once. Many older people who have been depressed in the past will be at an increased risk for becoming depressed again.

What to Look For

How do you know when you or a loved one need help? Without help, depression can last for weeks, months, or even years. If you or a loved one have several of the following signs of depression and they last for more than two weeks, see a doctor.

An “empty” feeling, ongoing sadness, and anxiety

Tiredness, lack of energy

Loss of interest or pleasure in everyday activities, including sex

Sleep problems, including trouble getting to sleep, very early morning waking, and sleeping too much

Eating more or less than usual

Crying too often or too much

Aches and pains that don’t go away when treated

A hard time focusing, remembering, or making decisions

Feeling guilty, helpless, worthless, or hopeless

Being irritable

Thoughts of death or suicide