The link between aging and depression is no secret nowadays. It can affect virtually anyone, for any number of reasons, and in even more ways. That why when it comes to mental health and aging well, it’s critical to understand the causes, symptoms, and treatments for depression, so that you can develop a treatment plan that will actually work.
Common Causes of Depression
• Life-changing health conditions, serious illness: This could include a diagnosis of cancer, heart disease, or Parkinson’s disease. Diseases that trigger chronic pain can also increase your risk of depression. Unfortunately, treatments for these diseases can cause depression, too; according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 11.5% of older adults will experience depression as a result of hospitalization or home care. Having a loved one suddenly diagnosed with a serious illness can also lead to symptoms of depression as a ripple effect.
• Hormonal imbalances, changes in sex drive: Menopause and andropause are common causes of midlife depression, and a drop in sex drive can make you feel lethargic or even lonely, which can easily lead to depression.
• Stress and anxiety: This is one of the more common causes of depression for middle-aged adults—also known as the “sandwich generation”—because they often feel overwhelmed with managing their responsibilities at work while also caring for their marriage, children, and aging parents.
• Death, grief, or the “empty nest:” The loss of a loved one, either through death or even their moving away, can trigger a grieving process and lead to feelings of loneliness, which can progress into depression.
• Genetics, mental illness: Your family’s mental health tends to have an impact on yours due to chemical imbalances passed on through genetics. If you or any of your family members have been diagnosed with a mental illness, ensure that you are familiar with the symptoms of depression, as you are more likely to develop it on a recurring basis.
Symptoms of Depression
If you experience several of these symptoms for an extended period of time, seek medical attention, as you may be suffering from depression:
• Loss of interest in the things you used to enjoy
• Withdrawal from social life
• Lack of concentration, loss of memory
• Constant fatigue, insomnia, interrupted sleep, or oversleeping
• Feelings of worthlessness, helplessness, or guilt
• Loneliness, sadness, feelings of “emptiness”
• Increased irritability
• Dramatic change in appetite
• Thoughts of suicide or self-mutilation
Treatments for Depression
When it comes to creating your perfect anti-aging formula for fighting depression, it’s best to consult with your doctor first and discuss a three-pronged approach that includes medical, physical, and mental treatments.
• Medical: Your physician may prescribe a medication, usually an antidepressant, to help you cope while you seek further treatment for depression. However, because depression can be a chemical imbalance and be passed on through genetics, prescription drugs may be required for an extended period of time.
• Physical: According to researchers at Duke University Medical Center, participants who took a brisk walk for just 30 minutes each day were more than four times less likely to experience a recurrence of depression. You can start with 30 minutes of exercising and work your way up from there. You may also want to consider attending classes or finding an exercise partner—having a social aspect to your anti-aging fitness routine can boost your mood and help motivate you to get up, get out, and get working up a sweat. Finally, you may also want to consult a nutritionist to develop a diet plan that works for you, especially if you have experienced dramatic changes in appetite as a result of depression.
• Mental: As a set of symptoms, depression can be managed. Learn to identify any thoughts or situations that tend to drive you into a downward spiral and try to reverse them. Laughter is also an effective treatment; take some time each day to enjoy a TV show, a comedian, or even a book that makes you laugh. Better yet, if you have a friend who’s always making you crack up, schedule time to see them each week, as social outings can also promote mental health.
“Depression,” National Institute on Aging web site; https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/depression, last accessed November 7, 2013.
Fein, D., “Defeat Depression during Anti-Aging Therapy,” North Dallas Wellness Center web site; https://www.drdavidfein.com/wellness-blog/depression-during-anti-aging/, last accessed November 7, 2013.
Livni, E., “Study: Exercise Treats Elderly Depression,” ABC News web site, September 21, 2013; https://abcnews.go.com/Health/Depression/story?id=117946.
“Slideshow: Sneaky Depression Triggers as You Age,” WebMD web site, March 9, 2012; https://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/ss/slideshow-depression-triggers-and-aging.