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Not a Normal Part of Aging

by Paula M. Trief, PhD

There are also some things a depressed person can do to counteract his depression. Regular physical activity, such as a daily walk, has been shown to improve mood. People who feel depressed because they’ve become weaker and less able to function independently may want to visit a physical or occupational therapist to build strength and endurance and to identify safe ways to stay active. Spending more time with friends and family and doing activities that used to be pleasurable, even if a person doesn’t feel like doing them, can be helpful as well: Sometimes emotions respond when behaviors are changed first.

Since the physical and mental health of older people are inevitably linked, any treatments for physical or mental health problems should be coordinated and integrated with each other. Many experts recommend that older people receive regular comprehensive assessments by their primary-care providers, which should include assessments of their mood, gait and balance, ability to think and plan, ability to function independently, and quantity and quality of personal relationships. Having this information allows a physician to tailor a person’s treatment to his needs. For example, if a person is having problems remembering or planning ahead, his diabetes treatment regimen may need to be simplified, or a caregiver may need to take over certain tasks.

How to get help
If you think you or a loved one might be depressed, the best place to start is to talk with your family physician. You can’t assume that your physician routinely screens for depression, so if you think you might be depressed, bring up the subject yourself. Similarly, if you suspect a loved one is depressed, tell him that you’re concerned about his emotional health and would like to discuss the matter with his health-care provider. Your local Mental Health Association or Office for the Aging can also be a good resource for information to help manage depression. (Contact information for local organizations can be found online or in the phone book.)

The most important steps are to notice when changes occur in your or a loved one’s emotional or mental state, to explore whether they might be due to depression, and to reach out for information and support.

Depression and diabetes are both potentially disabling illnesses, and older people are at high risk for both. But with appropriate interventions and ongoing care, both can be controlled and hope restored for a better quality of life.

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