Depression is not a normal part of aging

Learn the signs of depression and ways to feel better. You are worth it.

Two older women in sunglasses and matching clothes.

Older adults are faced with many life events that come with living a long life, such as dealing with the death of a spouse or life partner, moving out of their home to live in senior housing and declining health or mobility that come with normal aging. All these things combined may lead anyone to feel sad or stressed. Therefore, actual symptoms of clinical depression may be overlooked or missed by doctors, family members and friends.

According to America’s Health Rankings, about 20.5% of people in the United States have been diagnosed with depression, and that 14.6% of people over 65 have also been diagnosed with depression.

It is important to be familiar with the symptoms of depression, and to share that information with your family, friends and caregivers. Sometimes other people see signs in us before we are aware.

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 or crying too much/too often.
  • Either not getting enough sleep or wanting to sleep all the time.
  • Feeling tired all the time.
  • Eating problems, such as not wanting to eat 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 and overwhelmed most of the time.
  • Feeling hopeless, helpless or worthless.

Start by getting help

Your doctor will start with a thorough physical exam, which may include some blood tests. This will help rule out any underlying medical issues or something related to any current medications you are taking. Remember that depression is not just occasionally feeling down in the dumps or blue. It is a medical condition, just like diabetes or high blood pressure, and can be diagnosed and treated.


You and your doctor should work together to decide on a treatment plan. There are many different medications to treat depression. It may be several weeks to a few months before you see any improvement after starting a new medication. If you don’t 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 medication, your doctor may suggest talk therapy. According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, talk therapy helps people to find new ways of thinking, behaving and changing habits that can lead to feeling healthier and happier.

Self-care is essential for anyone, even more so for someone dealing with depression. Self-care may include spending time talking and doing activities with family and friends. Breaking down tasks into smaller steps can also help with depression. For example, if you want to organize your kitchen, start with just one drawer a week. When that’s done, do one cupboard a week. Only do what you can, when you can.

Adding some physical activity to your treatment plan has been shown to improve the symptoms of depression, according to the Journal of Primary Care Companion. Depending on your ability, getting even 10-15 minutes of some type of physical activity not only boosts your mood but can also improve your overall health. Try some chair stretching, mall walking, gardening or just enjoying some fresh air outdoors.

Be patient and know that there are still going to be good days and bad days. Give yourself some grace to accept all your feelings — good, bad and indifferent. Avoid isolation by reaching out to others, as loneliness can trigger depression symptoms. Look for people whom you can add to your circle of social support.

Crisis help

If you are thinking of harming yourself or attempting suicide, tell someone who can help immediately. Here are some suggestions for what to do:

Sometimes people view depression as a sign of weakness. You may hear from family or friends to "just get over it," or that being depressed is a normal part of aging. They are wrong, and it is not a normal part of aging. It is important to remember that most people who get treatment for depression do feel better and you can too. You are worth it.

Consider signing up for one or more of the classes Michigan State University Extension offers in health and well-being. MSU Extension offers programs such as Mental Health First Aid, which can teach you how to support someone who is experiencing a mental health challenge or crisis. You can also connect with our staff to learn more about our offerings for yourself or a loved one by visiting our referral form.

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