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Understanding late-life depression

May 9, 2024 | Medication, Researchers

Depression is not a natural part of aging, yet it affects up to 40 per cent of older adults. Sophiya Benjamin, Schlegel Chair in Mental Health and Aging, aims to create meaningful change to improve the mental well-being of older adults. Below, she shares how you can recognize and get help for depression.

What is depression?

Clinical depression, or major depression, is not just about feeling sad. It’s a serious condition where one may feel sad all the time and lack interest in activities that used to bring joy. Changes in sleep patterns or appetite, low energy, difficulty focusing, not maintaining personal hygiene, and feelings of guilt or worthlessness are other signs of depression. The severity of these symptoms can vary from mild to severe, and the signs and symptoms can vary from person to person.

Risk factors for developing depression

There are some risk factors that increase the risk of developing depression as one ages: 

  • The loss of a friend or loved one
  • Loneliness
  • Ongoing medical problems
  • Struggles with thinking, focusing and memory
  • Long-term hospital stays or being diagnosed with conditions such as strokes or Parkinson’s disease
Common myths
  • Common misconceptions about depression can prevent older adults from seeking help. Some of them include:
    • “It is not a normal part of aging”
  • Depression is not an inevitable part of aging and should be treated with the same concern as any health problem.
    • “There are no effective treatments”
  •  There are many effective treatments for depression, including medications, therapy, and lifestyle changes like adding mindful activities or more exercise to a daily routine.
    • “It’s just grief” or “I’m just tired”
  • While grief and fatigue are common, ongoing symptoms shouldn’t be ignored.
Seeking help

If you or someone you know might be experiencing depression, the first step is to talk to your family doctor. They can assess your symptoms, provide a diagnosis, and develop a treatment plan specific to your needs. This may include therapy, medication, and/or changes in lifestyle such as exercising more.

Understanding depression in late life is the first step toward managing it. With the right support and treatment, a fulfilling life is not out of reach. 

To learn more watch Demystifying Depression in Older Adults featuring Sophiya Benjamin

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