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1.  What is  Depression?

Depression is a syndrome characterized by a pervasive negative mood resulting in  loss of pleasure and enjoyment in daily activities. It can affect sleep, concentration, appetite and energy. Depression is a major cause of disability and can worsen the outcomes of hospitalization or common diseases such as heart attack or diabetes. Unlike younger people, most depressed elderly do not present with sadness . They often feel more anxious or irritable.

2. How common is Depression?

Most studies show that 15% of elderly people may suffer from a depressive syndrome.  These numbers may be higher for people in nursing homes or hospitals, as well as for people suffering  with dementia, or other chronic illnesses.

3. What Causes Depression?

Depression can be precipitated by a chemical imbalance in the brain, an acute or chronic illness or a traumatic event, personal loss or change in one’s life. Many people have a genetic vulnerability for developing depression and may have recurrent bouts throughout their lives. It is unusual for a person to develop their very first episode of depression in old age.

4. What can my doctor do for Depression?

Your doctor will want to examine you and review your medications  to ensure there are no underlying health problems that may be causing the depression. He or she may start you on an anti-depressant medication. These drugs have been shown to help 75% of people who take them. There are many antidepressant medications to choose from -  not all drugs have the same effect on each individual, so there may be a  trial period of finding the right drug for you. It often takes 4-8 weeks for medications to have a peak effect. Counselling and cognitive behavior therapy has also been shown to be effective for depression. People suffering with depression during the winter months in an overcast climate may benefit from a SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) light.

5. What can I do for Depression?

It is important to maintain a regular routine if you are depressed. This includes getting up at the same time each day, eating healthy meals and exercising.  Stay away from alcohol, recreational drugs or over the counter drugs. Sometimes people with depression feel overwhelmed and feel that life is no longer worth living. It is important to communicate these symptoms  ASAP to your family members, nurse or doctor.

6. Where can I find more information about Depression?

There are many national institutes and self help groups for depression:

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