Understanding Depression after 65

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It's normal to feel blue once in a while. But did you know that older adults may be at a higher risk of developing depression?

As you age, new stressors appear — some you haven't had to cope with — that can be difficult to deal with and may affect your overall mood. But there's a big difference between feeling down and being depressed. Educate yourself on the symptoms of depression and what you can do to take care of yourself.

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Depression is more than just feeling sad

While sadness is a common symptom of depression, it certainly isn't the only symptom. In fact, some people are diagnosed with depression without feeling sadness at all. They instead may feel tired, have trouble sleeping, or feel moody and irritable. According to the National Institute on Aging, other symptoms include:

  • Constant anxiety
  • Feeling "empty"
  • Feelings of hopelessness, guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • Having trouble sitting still
  • Loss of interest in once-pleasurable activities
  • Moving or talking more slowly
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
  • Eating more or less than usual
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts
  • Aches, pains, and/or digestive problems without a clear physical cause and/or that do not ease with treatment
  • Frequent crying

Having any of these symptoms short term, however, doesn't mean you have depression. "Depression is persistent [symptoms]. It's not just once in a while," says Brooke Wilson, head of worklife services for the Resources For Living® program at Aetna. If you're experiencing one or more of the above symptoms for more than two weeks, you may want to see your doctor.

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Depression is not a normal part of aging

While you may deal with new challenges as you get older, depression is not an automatic result of experiencing these stressors. "Some people think depression is just part of getting older," says Wilson. "So they don't talk about it with their doctor. And the doctor doesn't always see the symptoms of depression, because they may be more focused on their patient's physical health," says Wilson. That's why it's so important to talk to your doctor if you feel you may be depressed to ensure you get the help you need.

To help prevent or cope with depression, Wilson says taking care of your whole health is key. "Eating right, sleeping right, and staying active can help [your mental health] and prevent other physical health issues that might end up affecting your mental health," she says.

Staying socially connected is also important. "Social isolation can lead to a lot of negative things, from a physical and mental health perspective, so it's important to stay connected [with others] as best you can," says Wilson.

Your Medicare plan can help

Getting help for depression and/or your mental health can feel scary and intimidating, but you're not alone. Treatments like counseling and medication can make a big difference in how you feel. If you have a Medicare Advantage plan, it can help cover the costs of these treatments. All Medicare Advantage plans must provide at least the same level of mental health care coverage as Original Medicare (Parts A and B). In some cases, certain Medicare Advantage plans may offer even more than what Original Medicare offers. The coverage, costs, rules, and restrictions for mental health care will vary based on your plan, so call your plan for specific coverage details before seeking care.

You deserve to feel your best, no matter what your age. If you feel you may be experiencing depression or a mental health issue, talk to your doctor. Then, call your plan to understand your specific coverage so you can make the best decisions for your health.

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