By RUTH LARSON, Nurse Practitioner

Have you ever wondered if you feel down and depressed more than ‘normal’? Does the way you feel interfere with your enjoyment of life? Do you think the way you feel is normal at your age? Or that perhaps things could be different?

Sometimes it is challenging to tease apart whether what we feel is depression, or normal reactions to life’s changes and challenges. Depression is common across the lifespan, but depression is not a normal part of aging. However, as we age, we face challenging transitions: children leaving home, retirement, death of loved ones.

We also tend to have more chronic health conditions, and this can impact on our ability to socialize and engage in activities that we would have done previously; activities that improved our mood and sense of well-being. We know that the presence of chronic medical illnesses is associated with increased risk for depression in later life.

Have you…

  • Often been bothered by little interest or pleasure in doing things?
  • Often been bothered by feeling down, depressed or hopeless?

If your answer to one, or both, of these questions is “Yes”, speak to your Health Care Provider (Nurse Practitioner, or Physician) about further assessment for depression. There are often symptoms that accompany depression, in addition to feeling down or hopeless. Here are some questions you can ask yourself in preparation for an assessment.

 Am I satisfied with my life?

 Have I dropped usual activities and interests?

 Do I feel my life is empty?

 Am I in good spirits most of the time?

 Do I feel like something bad is going to happen to me?

 Would I rather stay at home than go out to try new things?

 Do I have more problems with my memory than most people I know?

 Do I think it is wonderful to be alive?

 Do I feel pretty worthless the way I am now?

 Do I feel energetic?

 Do I think other people are better off than I am?

It is important to rule out medical causes for your symptoms of depression. Sometimes the thyroid isn’t functioning properly, or you are lacking nutrients (Vitamin B12), or your blood sugar is too high; all of these can affect your mood. This can be checked with a blood test.

It is important for your health care provider to know your medical history, your social supports and stressors and your family history. Medications and psycho-therapy are appropriate treatments for depression in older adults. If the choice is to try medications, it is important to advise your health care provider of all medications, supplements, and over the counter products you take. Many medications used to treat depression can interact with herbals and supplements (e.g. St. John’s Wort).

Other treatments for depression include moderate intensity exercise. If you can do moderate exercise, it has been proven to reduce symptoms of depression. It is also helpful to ensure a healthy diet, and increase your social interactions. A study of Canadian seniors has shown that seniors who are socially engaged have increased feelings of overall health, and less feeling of loneliness.

So, if you think you might be suffering from depression, talk to your health care provider.

Depression isn’t a part of normal aging. It can be treated.

Resources for Depression: