Depression and Aging (cont.)

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 suddenly have to deal with a serious illness or death in the family. For some people, a loss in their own physical or mental skills brings on depression. Sometimes those under a lot of stress, like caregivers, can feel depressed. Others become depressed for no clear reason.

People with serious illnesses, such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, or Parkinson's disease, sometimes become depressed. They worry about how their illness will change their lives. They might be tired and not able to deal with something that makes them sad. Treatment for depression helps them feel better and improves quality of life.

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. And, depression tends to be a disorder that occurs more than once. Many older people who have been depressed in the past are at an increased risk.

What to Look For

How do you know when you need help? After all, as you age, you may have to face problems that could cause anyone to feel "depressed." Perhaps you are dealing with the death of a loved one or friend. Maybe you are having a tough time getting used to retirement, and you feel lonely. Possibly you have a chronic illness. Or, you might feel like you have lost control over your life.

After a period of feeling sad, older people usually adjust and regain their emotional balance. But, if you are suffering from clinical depression and don't get help, your depression might last for weeks, months, or even years. Here is a list of the most common signs of depression. If you have several of these, and they last for more than 2 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; a suicide attempt