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Depression in seniors: Not normal, not necessary

Taking care of your body, mind and spirit is an important part of healthy aging. We treat physical pain and discomfort, but when it comes to mental and emotional symptoms, many people suffer in silence.

Millions of adults in the U.S. and thousands in Hawaii are living with depression and mental health issues. Our aging population is particularly susceptible to depression for many reasons: the loss of a spouse, friends and loved ones; stress over health or money; a decline in physical or mental abilities; and loss of independence.

Adults over the age of 85 have the highest suicide rate in the country. This alarming statistic sheds light on the fact that kupuna have their own unique mental health challenges that must be recognized and addressed. Learn how to get support for yourself, or help someone else get the care they need.

Identifying the signs

Look for these troubling symptoms:

>> Persistent sadness

>> Constant worrying about money, family or health

>> Confusion / trouble remembering

>> Taking more medication than prescribed or forgetting to take prescribed medications

>> Neglecting appearance / hygiene

>> Neglecting to care for their home or pets

If you notice any of these signs, talk to your loved one. Offer to schedule an appointment with their health care provider or therapist. If they are open to discussing their feelings, listen without judgment. Let them speak freely and try to understand their concerns and fears.

Sometimes, solving a problem or tending to a basic need can improve their outlook and lower stress. For instance, if your aging mother is anxious about getting around, help her arrange transportation to help her shop, meet friends and go to her appointments.

“I need support”

As we grow older, we experience loss, health issues and other difficulties. Sadness and grief are normal and healthy, but they shouldn’t interfere with your daily life.

Looking back over the past two or more weeks, do you identify with any of the following statements?

>> I frequently feel sad, hopeless, guilty, anxious, irritable, overwhelmed.

>> My appetite and/or weight has changed. I have no appetite or interest in food, or I am eating more than usual.

>> I have difficulty sleeping or staying asleep, or I am taking medications (prescribed or over the counter) for sleep that are not helpful.

>> I am sleeping more than usual. I feel fatigued and low-energy, and I don’t want to get out of bed.

>> I can’t concentrate, focus, make decisions or remember things.

>> I feel like life isn’t worth living. My family would be better off without me.

>> I find no pleasure in the activities I usually enjoy, like seeing my family. I feel like no one visits me, or I don’t want to visit with anyone.

If this sounds familiar, you may be depressed. Depression is not a normal part of aging — you shouldn’t feel this way. There’s no shame in asking for help. Start with telling your health care provider, a family member or friend how you are feeling. Ask them if they can help you.

Find ways to speak out about your depression to get the help you need. Visit

Johann Hepner, APRN, is a nurse practitioner in Kaiser Permanente’s Integrated Behavioral Health Department.

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