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Depression is not a normal part of aging

Sometimes when people feel sad, they say they are "depressed." But depression is more than just feeling sad.

Sleeping problems, persistent sadness, forgetfulness, withdrawing from friends-all these behaviors and feelings are often accepted behaviors for older adults. But for many people age 65 and over, these responses are not a result of the normal aging process, nor are they signs of senility. They are symptoms of a common emotional illness called depression.

Depression, surprisingly, is common in the elderly but it often goes overlooked and untreated. One reason this sometimes happens is because there are people who incorrectly believe that depression is a normal part of the aging process. Depression is not a normal part of aging for anyone.

Since many seniors accept their symptoms as an inevitable part of aging, no help is sought. Some older adults unfortunately continue holding onto the mistaken belief that they have to "stay strong and tough it out." Many are easily embarrassed by the stigma of mental illness and are so ashamed of their symptoms that they are unwilling or unable to discuss their feelings with a professional.

If the signs of this illness are recognized and appropriate help is sought, most elderly patients can experience improvement within weeks. On the other hand, when depression is not recognized and treated, the consequences can be tragic. Depression may be the cause of up to two-thirds of suicides in older adults.

Depression is more than an occasional feeling of sadness or a natural, grieving response to loss. It is a group of long-lasting or recurring emotions and behaviors that interfere with a person's normal activities.

One obstacle to getting help for depression can be a person's attitude. Many people think that depression will go away by itself, or that they're too old to get help, or that getting help is a sign of weakness. People of all ages need to understand that telling loved ones or health professionals about symptoms of depression is not a sign personal weakness or a character flaw. In fact, telling people that you are having symptoms of depression is often an extremely important first step to getting help and getting better.

If you're having symptoms of depression, be sure to tell your doctor. Don't assume he or she will be able to tell that you are depressed just by looking at you. Your doctor will ask you questions about your symptoms, your health and your family's history of health problems. He or she may also give you an exam and do some tests. It is also important to tell your doctor about any medicines that you are taking.

Depression can be treated with medicine or counseling, or both. These treatments are very effective. Medicine may be particularly important for severe depression. Talk to your doctor about the right treatment for you.