Pine Rest Blog

Depression in late-life: When it is more than “just the blues”

depression, blues, caregivers, sadness


by Suzann Ogland-Hand, PhD

Sleeping problems, sadness, forgetfulness, increased physical complaints, withdrawal from friends and typical activities are behaviors we may accept as we age – but these symptoms are not a normal part of aging. They may be symptoms of depression.


Everyone has experienced feeling “blue” or “down in the dumps.”  In fact, sadness, loss and grief are normal parts of life. But when the feelings become overwhelming and interfere with a person’s life, that’s depression.


Depression is an illness, just as arthritis and diabetes are illnesses. Depression can take many forms, including a variety of physical symptoms. Some older people with depression do not feel sad at all, but are bothered by constant feelings of tiredness or pains that just don’t seem to go away.


Researchers also tell us that caregivers – those loved ones involved in supporting the care of someone with a chronic and debilitating disease – also experience high rates of depression.


It is true that caregiving can provide a lot of meaning to a person’s life. Many caregivers know that nothing is quite as personally satisfying as the reward of seeing that your loved one is getting good care.


At the same time, caregiving for a loved one can, on occasion, be a frustration and a challenge. This is especially true when caregiving occurs over a longer period of time.


Do you, or does someone you know, have any of these symptoms?

  • Loss of interest in formerly pleasurable activities
  • Dissatisfaction with life
  • Withdrawal from social activities
  • Loss of energy
  • Feeling useless, worthless, hopeless
  • Irritability
  • Great concern with health problems
  • Sadness and crying
  • Worry, self-criticism
  • Difficulty concentrating and/or making decisions
  • Loss of appetite and weight
  • Wishing to die or having thoughts of ending life


If you think depression may be a problem, discuss your concerns with a physician or mental health provider. They may suggest professional counseling or prescribe antidepressant medications.


The good news is that depression is a highly treatable illness. The sooner a person receives help, the sooner recovery can begin.


Don’t minimalize the symptoms by thinking “Oh, it’s only depression – I need to just snap out of it.” These symptoms may indicate some other medical issue, and if the diagnosis is depression, it often responds well to treatment.


By recognizing, responding to the signs of depression, and obtaining professional help your quality of life can be restored.


This column appeared in the September 23, 2012 edition of the Grand Rapids Press.

Suzann Ogland-Hand, PhD, is a geropsychologist and the Director of the Center for Senior Care at Pine Rest. She specializes in treatment of depression and works with seniors, care providers and their families. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Ogland-Hand at the Pine Rest Northeast Clinic, call 1-866/852-4001.

In recognition of Mental Illness Awareness Week, Oct. 7 – 13, online screening for depression can be found at the Michigan Psychological Association Foundation website:

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