How to Talk to Your Doctor About Depression

Depression afflicts many older adults, and too often its symptoms are dismissed by those caring for them. Here are some tips for discussing depression with your physician.

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- Posted on Jun 23, 2017

A depressed senior woman gazes out the window

Not every doctor is as attuned to their patients’ state of mind as Marion Bond West’s. Depression is often overlooked in older adults. How do you recognize depression and talk to your doctor about it? Victoria Walker, M.D., chief medical officer of the Good Samaritan Society, offers these suggestions:

Learn what depression is. It’s not a normal part of aging, a sign of weakness or a spiritual failing. It is a medical condition that affects your quality of life, treatable with psychotherapy, medication or lifestyle changes.

Know the signs. Common symptoms of depression in seniors include irritability, low energy, loss of joy in favorite pastimes, sleep problems and loss of appetite. Dr. Walker also watches for “pain or limitations that are out of proportion to physical findings, trouble concentrating and not wanting to be around other people.”

Request a longer doctor’s appointment. You’ll need more than 15 minutes. When asked the reason for the visit, you can say, “It’s complicated. A longer appointment would be good.”

Be direct and honest. The more open you are, the more effectively your doctor can help you. “Often people wait until the doctor is about to leave before they bring up depression,” Dr. Walker says. “Don’t be embarrassed. Depression is very common. At the start of your appointment, just say, ‘I think I might be depressed’ and describe your symptoms.”

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Give a complete picture. “It’s important to mention all the symptoms you’ve been experiencing,” Dr. Walker says. Write down when each symptom started and any patterns you’ve noticed. “Sometimes symptoms of depression overlap with symptoms of conditions such as thyroid disorders, anemia and vitamin deficiencies.” Ask if any medications could be affecting your moods.

Discuss lifestyle changes. “Exercise and being outside have been shown to be really beneficial for depression,” says Dr. Walker. “If you like to read and journal, try self-help books utilizing cognitive behavioral therapy.” Look for ways to connect with people. Have lunch with a friend. Go to the local senior center. Considering in-home companion services? Contact the Good Samaritan Society at good-sam.com/guideposts.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. How will I know if this medication is working? What’s the difference between depression and grief? Is it dementia or depression? All are good points to discuss with your doctor. For more resources on mental health and well-being, visit good-sam.com/guideposts.

Read Marion Bond West's story about reviving her moribund marriage.

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