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  Sanford Health Walk-in Clinic
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Sanford North Mandan Clinic

Is it normal for older adults to be depressed this time of year?

It’s normal for older adults, those 65 and over, to have some despondency due to events related to this time of their lives, such as the adjustment to retirement, health problems that are more likely to increase with age and the loss of loved ones. In the winter, decreased sunlight can contribute to feelings of depression. Also, icy conditions and cold weather may keep older adults at home, causing increased feelings of loneliness and isolation. However, depression is not a normal part of growing older. If feelings of depression occur several times a day and persist for more than two weeks, it’s time to make an appointment with your doctor.

How do I know if what I feel is depression?

In older adults, symptoms of depression can be similar to those found in the early stages of illnesses such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Whatever the cause, it’s important to see a doctor. Many older adults are reluctant to discuss their feelings because they still view depression as a weakness they should control. Depression is not something you cause. It is a medical illness, and it can be successfully treated.

Are the symptoms of depression different for older adults?

Anyone experiencing major depression is likely to have similar symptoms, such as loss of interest in things that were formerly of interest, crying without reason, sleeping too much, withdrawing from family and friends and even thoughts of death or suicide. Older adults are also likely to notice more aches and pains, digestive issues and sexual problems and are more likely to feel forgetful, confused or unable to complete tasks they began.

How can my family medicine doctor help me?

Family medicine doctors are trained to diagnose and treat acute and chronic illnesses in both the physical and mental health realms. At your appointment, it’s important you tell your doctor exactly what you’ve been feeling. Bring all your medications—prescriptions as well as over-the-counter supplements you take—to your appointment. Your doctor will ask questions about your symptoms, your overall health and your family history of health problems. You may also have a physical examination. If you are diagnosed with depression, treatment may include counseling and, if necessary, medication. Medicines to treat depression are called antidepressants, and they correct the chemical imbalance in the brain that has caused the depression.

What should I do if I think an older family member is depressed?

Depression is often first recognized by friends or family members. Begin by talking to your loved one about your concerns and encourage him/her to make an appointment or offer to make it yourself and accompany him/her. People who are depressed often have trouble following through even when they have good intentions. If your loved one has talked about wanting to die or commit suicide, intervene immediately. Call his/her family medicine doctor and work together keep your loved one safe until he/she receives treatment and is feeling better.

Dr. Kinsey Shultz Piatz is a family medicine doctor at Sanford North Mandan Clinic. She is a graduate of the University of North Dakota School of Medicine and completed her residency at Siouxland Medical Education Foundation in Sioux City, Iowa.

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