Depression And Aging

15% of older adults have depression but it is often overlooked as it may be viewed as symptoms of other health issues such as fatigue, headache, confusion or memory loss. Depression should not be mistaken for ‘normal aging’. You may enjoy your favorite hobbies, grandkids and a delicious steak dinner, but you can still experience anxiety at the prospect of impending death. Depression is not a sign of weakness or a character flaw. It can happen to anyone, regardless of your background or previous accomplishments.

There are several types of depressive disorders. If left unchecked, mild depression can progress to a chronic or recurring and persistent condition otherwise known as clinical or major depressive disorder. These conditions may complicate your existing health and trigger new concerns. Recent studies show that lower amounts of folate in your blood and nervous system can contribute to depression, mental impairment, and dementia.

Untreated depression can result in higher rates of mortality in older adults. Treatment programs for other medical conditions can take longer than normal and are less successful. Depression can also lead to poor eating habits that result in obesity or a loss of appetite with low energy levels. This can result in a condition called geriatric anorexia.

If you are depressed, you may experience insomnia and memory loss, and longer reaction times. This can cause longer than normal reaction times associated with cooking, driving and other day to day tasks that require your full attention.


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Causes Of Depression

For many people, depression is triggered by more than one factor. It may be caused by your genetics and the brain. You may have psychological issues dating back to the way you were treated growing up. Women are more likely to develop depression than men because of genetic and hormonal differences or environmental factors.

As you age, you may experience the loss of a partner, family or friends. You may be transitioning to retirement or diagnosed with chronic health conditions like cancer. In retirement, there may be a decline in attending church or other organized activities, spending more time online instead of socializing with others in person. You may be downsizing and moving to a new neighborhood for financial reasons. You are no longer able to pursue once-cherished activities.

These life events can cause a downward spiral and you may not even realize you are entering a phase of depression. You may wonder how to find happiness when these events are taking a heavy toll on your emotional well-being.

The following conditions are also associated with higher rates of depression:

  • Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinsons disease
  • Stroke
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Seizure disorders.
  • Cancer.
  • Chronic pain
  • Bipolar disorder can cause episodes of depression

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Symptoms Of Depression

With early diagnosis and treatment, you can prevent the emotional and physical consequences that depression can cause. First, let’s take a look at symptoms you may be experiencing because of depression:

  • Short term memory problems and confusion such as forgetfulness. Difficult to focus on work or other tasks, instead worrying about other things. Difficult to make decisions.  
  • Social withdrawal from family and friends. Struggle to form new social connections. Too exhausted and overwhelmed to deal with social interaction.
  • Loss of pleasure or reduced interest in activities previously enjoyable. A decreased ability to feel pleasure.
  • Constantly overeating or eating less than you used to.
  • Complaints of pain such as headaches, cramps, muscle soreness or muscle stiffness which may accompany other psychological symptoms.
  • A change in sleep patterns such as getting more sleep than normal. Falling asleep during the day. Persistent difficulty falling asleep or waking up earlier than usual.
  • Feeling angry, irritable or demanding behaviour causing issues with your relationships and even having difficulty seeking help.
  • Delusions or hallucinations.
  • Thoughts of self harm (suicidal ideation) is a very serious symptom of depression and it’s critical to seek help with a mental health professional right away.
  • Persistent feeling of sadness. Constantly in the throes of despair or in a bad mood.
  • Feeling fatigue, lethargic and constantly tired. Having to struggle to get out of bed each morning or doing anything except the bare minimum to get by.
  • Reckless behavior which may include increased substance use, reckless driving, physical conflicts and unsafe sex.
  • An intense persistent feeling of worthlessness, self-doubt or low self-esteem relating to work, school or personal relationships.
  • Some medications can cause depression such as corticosteroids, benzodiazepine tranquilizers, hormone-altering drugs, anticonvulsants and anticholinergic medications. Review medications with your doctor if you are experiencing depression.

Treatment and Prevention

As soon as you show symptoms of depression, it is imperative to seek help with your doctor. It is a very treatable mental health condition with positive results.

Psychotherapy or talk therapy with a mental health professional can help to identify and change unhealthy emotions, thoughts and behaviors. CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) is the most common form of talk therapy. You may need this type of therapy for a short time or months or even years.

Antidepressants can help change your brain chemistry but may require different types to figure out the best fit for you. Many people with mild depression find relief with acupuncture, massage, hypnosis and biofeedback (painless sensors used to measure certain bodily functions).

Severe depression or depression with psychosis can be treated with brain stimulation therapy which may include ECT (electronconvulsive therapy), TMS (transcranial megnetic stimulation and VNS (vagus nerve stimulation).

Depression can also be prevented or treated with regular exercise, quality sleep, healthy diet and enjoying time with friends and family. Meditation and yoga are also proven methods to help treat and prevent depression.

Vitamins may help with depression including:

  • Vitamin D – An over abundance can be toxic so have your levels monitored with your doctor. Certain medications can interfere with vitamin D including statins, steroids, weight loss drugs and diuretics.
    • Sources of vitamin D include:
      • Exposure to sunlight 5-30 minutes at least twice a week
      • Cod liver oil
      • Fatty fish including trout, salmon, tuna or sardines
      • Mushrooms
      • Fortified milk
      • Egg yolk
      • Fortified cereals
      • Beef liver
  • Vitamin B12 – Is required for a healthy central nervous system, red blood cell formation and DNA synthesis. A deficiency can lead to irritability, personality change, dementia, depression and psychosis (rare cases). Medications that can interfere with B10 include proton pump inhibitors (H2 blockers) and metformin.
    • Food sources include:
      • Beef liver
      • Clams
      • Tuna
      • Milk
      • Yogurt
      • Fortified cereals
      • Cheese
  • Folate or B9 – People with major depression had lower levels of folate compared to those who did not. Increasing your levels of folate plays a major role between a healthy diet and depression. Medications that may interfere with B9 include methotrexate (treats cancer), antiepileptic medications and sulfasalazine (treats colitis).
    • Food sources:
      • Dark leafy green vegetables including spinach, romaine lettuce, turnip greens
      • Liver
      • Asparagus
      • Brussel sprouts
      • Black-eyed peas
      • Seafood
      • Beans
      • Peanuts
  • Vitamin C – Is required for your immune function and production of collagen and neurotransmitters. It helps to reduce inflammation and oxidative stress. Chemotherapy, radiation and statins may interfere with vitamin C.
    • Food sources of vitamin C include:
      • Oranges, grapefruits, kiwi, strawberries
      • Bell peppers
      • Brocolli
      • Brussel Sprouts
      • Cabbage
      • Cauliflower
      • White potatoes
  • Niacin or B3 – Helps to improve sleep, mood, blood pressure and lessens suicidal thoughts. Anti-diabetes medications may interfere with B3.
    • Food sources include:
      • Beef and liver (red meat)
      • Poultry
      • Fish
      • Brown rice
      • Fortified cereals
      • Nuts, seeds
      • Bananas
      • Legumes
  • Magnesium – Low levels of magnesium have been linked to depression and mood issues. Antibiotics and diuretics may interfere with magnesium.
    • Food sources include:
      • Dark green leafy vegetables
      • Nuts
      • Legumes
      • Whole grains
      • Fortified cereals
  • Calcium – Low levels of calcium have been linked to dementia and depression. Medication to treat AIDS/HIV and certain antibiotics can interfere with calcium.
    • Food sources include:
      • Dairy
      • Canned Sardines, salmon
      • Kale
      • Brocolli
      • Fortified orange juice
      • Edamame
      • Almonds
      • Fortified plant-based milks
  • Iron – Low levels of iron can result in anemia, fatigue, headaches, depression, anxiety and sleep disorders. Levodopa, levothyroxine and proton pump inhibitors can interfere with iron.
    • Food sources include:
      • Fortified cereals
      • Beans
      • Dark Chocolate
      • Lentils
      • Spinach
      • Potato with skin
      • Nuts, seeds
      • Enriched breads
      • Oysters
      • Beef and beef liver

More information on a healthy diet can be found here.


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