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Depression is the most common mental health concern among older persons (Myers and Schwiebert, 1996). Depression often stems from a reaction to a loss. A diagnosis of depression can be difficult because symptoms mimic the those of other conditions (like dementia or anxiety). There are clinical assessments that can be used to diagnose depression which attempt to distinguish between clinical depression, dementia, and normal grief reactions.

Symptoms which are hallmarks of depression include somatic complaints, isolation, restless, sleep disturbance, feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness, lack of energy or interest in activities, and thoughts of suicide. Over all age groups, women are more likely to be diagnosed with depression than men. This is probably because women are more likely to acknowledge their depression and seek help, while men tend to be more stoic and to submerge themselves in other activities and responsibilities to get relief from personal emotional difficulties. Among a retired population, however, it is more difficult for men to resort to this strategy and it is likely that the incidence of observable depressive symptoms among men rises with age. While men remain reluctant to seek professional help even as they age, men over 75 constitute the highest risk group for suicide among all other groups by age and sex.

The National Institute on Aging publishes a series of "Age Pages" on a variety of topics related to aging. Here is a link to their fact sheet on depression.


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