Depression affects 15 out of every 100 adults older than 65, according to the National Institute on Aging. Paul Hartman, social services coordinator for King's Daughters' Health, said one of the reasons is that the elderly often are faced with a great deal of loss, which can be addressed in several ways.

Sometimes that loss comes in the form of a family member or spouse, and other times it's the loss of a physical ability or even a daily independence such as driving.

"Those things are huge," Hartman said.

Among white males 70 to 80, Hartman said, the risk of suicide and depression increases tremendously. Many of those men might be suffering from the death of a family member - or coming to terms with their limitations.

According to Columbus Regional Hospital, people older than 65 may experience depression differently from those who are younger. For example, an older person with depression may not feel especially sad or worthless but may have insomnia and difficulty remembering things or feel fatigued, listless, or apathetic.

Columbus Regional Hospital lists signs of depression as feeling worthless or helpless, persistent sadness that lasts for more than two weeks, difficulty sleeping, constant fatigue, difficulty concentrating or remembering; indecisiveness, frequent tearfulness or crying spells, withdrawal from regular social activities, pacing, fidgeting or irritability, changes in appetite, sudden weight gain or loss, feeling apathetic, physical ailments that don't appear to have another medical cause, thoughts of death or suicide and/or suicide attempts. Remarks about suicide should be taken seriously and reported to a doctor.

Hartman said there is help available for seniors suffering from depression or similar problems.

The stages of grief are "a process for them to work through," Hartman said.

In the community, Hartman said, several social service organizations hold group therapy sessions for elderly people. In addition, there are several mental health services facilities that can assist, and there is always the possibility of medication.

Hartman, who is a licensed clinical social worker, said that with medication, it often takes time for the physician to find the right treatment that fits the patient.

"Sometimes that can take several weeks," he said.

As the population ages, Hartman said, one of the most important attributes to seniors' mental wellness comes through family support. He said a simple visit to an elderly family member can make a huge difference in that person's behavior and demeanor. Also, he said, family members can better recognize trends in the person's behavior.

"With older adults, too, it's that stigma that they don't often times even want to discuss it," he said. "And usually the families that are involved can be more perceptive about what's going on."

As you get older and retire or move to a new community, you may not have quite as many opportunities to socialize as you did.

If you're not heading to an office or getting out and about each day, you may be missing out on important social interaction that you need to stay sharp, healthy, and maybe even ward off dementia. Research has shown that social interaction offers older adults many benefits. Staying socially active and maintaining interpersonal relationships can help you maintain good physical and emotional health and cognitive function.

People who continue to maintain close friendships and find other ways to interact socially live longer than those who become isolated. Relationships and social interactions even help protect against illness by boosting your immune system.

Social interaction helps keep your brain from getting rusty, but it's most effective when coupled with an overall healthy lifestyle, including a nutritious diet and physical activity.

Start by staying in touch with friends and family, and try to visit with them regularly.

Although staying in touch in person is important, phone calls, snail mail and e-mail can keep you connected, too-if you're not yet comfortable with computers, ask a young relative to help you.

Staying socially active and maintaining your relationships are an important part of healthy aging. Reach out to your loved ones-neighbors, friends, family members-and stay as vibrant, active and social as you've always been.

The Columbus Regional Hospital Health Library