Written By:  Gayle Horton

Many people assume mom or dads are depressed due to many factors or changes in their lives when in fact they are experiencing changes in their memory. It is not always easy to distinguish between depression and dementia.

Older adults face grief after losing a spouse, loss of their independence, and health problems, which can all lead to depression, especially in those without a strong support system. Depression is not a normal part of aging, but the loss of natural chemicals which aid in giving a person the ability to be more hopeful, can be a reflection of aging. Older adults tend to complain more about their physical pain rather than how they feel emotionally. The older generation has been taught to suppress their emotional feelings which can make depression in older adults much harder to diagnose. Depression can be associated with their poor health; and a high mortality rate which put’s them in a category of increased risk of suicide.

We all have times when we are feeling down, which is a normal part of life. But when emptiness and despair take hold of our thoughts and does not go away, it may be depression. The lows of depression make it tough to function and to enjoy life. Just getting through the day can be overwhelming. No matter how hopeless someone feels, they can get better. One of my older male client’s was dealing with serious cardiac issues and he was having difficulty enjoying his life, when I suggested taking an anti-depressant. He initially refused but he did finally ask his doctor for a prescription. A few weeks later he told me that he “now had a reason to smile again.” Some people describe depression as “living in a dark black hole” or having feelings of “not seeing any light at the end of the tunnel.” However, some depressed people don't feel sad, but they may appear lifeless or empty, especially in men who may also express anger, aggression, and restlessness.

Many older adults begin to sleep too much and they begin to have trouble concentrating and staying on task. They complain of feeling hopeless and helpless. Their conversations are often negative, and they can be irritable and short tempered. Some people replace eating with drinking alcohol which can lead to other serious side effects. Noticeable weight loss and loss of appetite can also be warning signs.

Depression varies from person to person, especially in older adults, but there are some common symptoms, and it is important to remember that these symptoms can be part of life’s normal lows. But the more symptoms the person has and the longer the person has been troubled, the more likely it is depression. When these symptoms are overwhelming and disabling, please seek help.

Depression can be very serious and can even be life threatening, so I do believe that any person with symptoms should be evaluated by a doctor or other professional to evaluate all of the symptoms to determine if memory loss plays a part in the depression.