Is depression a normal part of aging?

Many people believe that depression is a natural part of normal aging.  You are not alone if you worry about this. But, the short answer is: NO. Rather, challenging life events can increase the risk of developing depression. And these negative happenings in our lives add up in number as we age. As the number of people older than 65 years old increases worldwide, and our resources become more limited, late-life depression becomes a greater concern for society. We know that depression can lead to greater emotional suffering and increased suicide risk. But what we generally don’t hear is how depression can affect how fast we can think.

What is the best treatment for depression in older adults?

Depression symptoms generally include lowered mood or loss of interest or pleasure. Older adults may not describe it as sadness per se. In contrast, they may present with body aches, pain, mental and physical fatigue, or sleep disturbance. All of these may suggest depression OR a physical health issue. Late-life depression is a complex challenge. Standard treatments such as antidepressants are not as helpful or safe for older adults as they are for younger people.

Thus, psychological treatment can be considered the first choice to address the emotional challenges. In addition, it is really important whether these emotional challenges stem from. The could be negative life events such as the loss of a loved one, dealing with disease, or injury. Accordingly, types of psychological treatment may include grief counselling, supportive therapy, problem-solving therapy, and cognitive behavioural therapy. In short, psychological treatments must be client-centered- they must be based on the person’s immediate presenting issues.  Importantly, we can experience negative life events such as losses, disease, or injury at any age. But, depression treatment is often more challenging in an older person, simply due to the increased complexity of the older adult.

Why is important to treat depression in later life?

Depression is closely associated with brain aging. Therefore, brain health is connected with healthy aging and vice versa.  For example, brain disease can lead to cognitive decline and dementia which can drive the development of depression in late life. At the same time, late-life depression is a presumed causal factor in the development of dementia (i.e. it’s a two-way street).   

Thus, a priority for older adults includes minimizing the sources of vulnerabilities of brain aging.  In short,  it is better to prevent than treat given that prevention less invasive to a person’s daily routine, and more efficient than treatment. Supporting one’s brain health is of vital importance.  The 5 areas that any person can engage in to promote their own brain health and mental well-being include

  • a) healthy diet,
  • b) mental/ cognitive stimulation- learning something that is new to you
  • c) physical exercise,
  • d) social interactions that are meaningful to you, and
  • d) stress reduction (e.g. constructive coping mechanisms, sleep hygiene, self-care activities, relaxation/ tension reduction).  

And help in how to best implement the above strategies to promote your brain health is always available, one step at a time is described in this article providing information on the 5 areas of brain health

Other posts on emotional wellness can be found here

And if you would like to talk to Heike, you can find her contact information here

Is depression a normal part of aging?
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Is depression a normal part of aging?
Heike at Mind your Brain explains how depression is linked with brain health, and what you can do to support your brain health and emotional well-being as you get older
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Mind your Brain
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