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Is Depression Genetic?

by Dr. Patrick Arbore, Elder Abuse & Depression Expert
March 07, 2013

Question: My mom’s side of the family has a history of depression. Does this mean I am susceptible to being depressed when I get older?

Answer: Most experts would agree that a family history of depression may be a contributing factor for late life depression. That being stated, however, it is important to recognize that there are many factors that contribute to depressive states in late life. Among the related factors that may occur with depression in older adult are: Illnesses including different types of cancers or other malignancies; Medications; Nutritional deficits; Neurologic changes; Psychosocial stressors including losses of loved ones, lack of adequate social support, or lack of a stimulating environment; and Physiologic changes including sleep disruption or mobility issues. Remember that a diagnosis of depression in an older adult is difficult because of the many symptoms that are used as diagnostic criteria. Many of these symptoms may be appropriate criteria for younger adults but not as useful when assessing for depression in older adults. My suggestion would be, however, to let your primary care physician know about your family history of depression. Increase your ability to listen to your body through meditation, yoga, participation in self help groups and other activities that enhance your connection with your “self.” Should you notice any persistent changes in your mood, sleep, eating habits, decision making, activities, see your doctor right away. Depression can be remediated; recognizing it is the problem.    

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Dr. Patrick Arbore is the Founder and Director of the Center for Elderly Suicide Prevention and Grief Related Services (CESP), a program offered by the Institute on Aging in San Francisco. Dr. Arbore conducts workshops and lectures locally and nationally on aging-related subjects. He is the author of numerous articles and book chapters on suicide prevention, bereavement, suffering, etc., including a chapter he co-authored in the book, “When Professionals Weep".

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