Depression is not a normal part of aging

Posted on August 3, 2016 by Holly Tiret, Michigan State University Extension

Michigan State University Extension recognizes the need for education on mental health topics such as depression in older adults. According to the Mental Health America, over 34 million people in the US suffer from depression and of that 34 million, over 2 million are people aged 65 and older.

Older adults are faced with many life changes due to typical aging, such as death of a spouse, moving out of the family home or declining health or mobility; therefore, symptoms of depression are sometimes overlooked or missed by doctors, family members and friends.

Symptoms of depression

Although symptoms of depression may vary, if you experience several of the following signs for more than two weeks, see a doctor.

  • Feeling sad, crying too much or too often.
  • Sleep problems – either not getting enough sleep or wanting to sleep all the time, feeling tired all the time.
  • Eating problems – not wanting to eat at all, or overeating.
  • Not wanting to participate in activities that you normally enjoy.
  • Not being able to concentrate, remember things or make decisions.
  • Feeling anxious, irritable, overwhelmed most of the time.
  • Feeling hopeless, helpless, or worthless.

Start by getting help

Your own doctor will first do a thorough physical exam. They need to make sure your symptoms are not the not the result of other health problems like hypothyroidism or medications you are already taking.


You and your doctor should work together to decide the best treatment plan. There are many different medications to treat depression. It may be several weeks to a few months before you see any improvement. If you do not see improvement, your doctor may suggest another antidepressant. Sometimes it may take a while to find out what works best for you.

In addition to medicine, your doctor may suggest talk therapy. According to National Institutes of Health, talk therapy helps you to find new ways of thinking, behaving and changing habits that can lead to feeling healthier and happier.

Self-care for depression includes spending time talking and doing activities with family and friends. It may also help to break up large tasks into smaller bits. Only do what you can, when you can. Depending on your ability, getting even 10-15 minutes a day of some type of physical activity not only boosts your mood, but also can improve your overall physical health. Try some chair-stretching, mall walking or just enjoying the fresh air outdoors.

Crisis Help

If you are thinking of harming yourself or attempting suicide, tell someone who can help immediately.

  • Call your doctor.
  • Call 911
  • Go to the nearest hospital emergency room.
  • Call 24-hour toll free 1-800-273-8255, TTY 1-800-7994889.

According to the National Institute on Aging, sometimes people feel that depression is a sign of weakness. You may hear from friends and family members to just ‘get over it’, or that being depressed is a normal part of aging. They are wrong, and it is not. It is important to remember that most people who get treatment for depression do feel better. You are worth it.