Many people believe depression is just a part of aging. Your peer group begins to pass away, your health fades a bit, you lose some independence, of course you'd be feeling a little depressed. It seems logical, but it simply is not true. Aging and depression do not have to go hand-in-hand.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, 6.5 million adults age 65 and older are affected by depression. Do you know the warning signs? The symptoms of depression in seniors can be slightly different than those in other age groups. If you are worried about your parent or other loved one may be suffering from depression, look for these symptoms:

• Confusion
• Loss of appetite or weight loss
• Irritability
• Inability to sleep
• Complaints of being in pain that are vague and nonspecific
• Memory problems
• Withdrawal from social situations

Older adults and the elderly are at risk for depression for a variety of reasons. Illness and depression often go hand in hand. Chronic pain and physical disability can lead to depression in the elderly. Some medical conditions, such as Parkinson's, stroke, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, lupus, and multiple sclerosis, have been linked to depression as well. If your loved one is facing a chronic illness, work closely with their health care provider to screen them for depression.

Living alone or feeling isolated can also trigger bouts of depression. Ensuring your loved one gets out and attend events or regular activities can help them to feel connected and engaged. This sense of connection with the outside world goes hand in hand with a sense of purpose. Feelings of isolation are often coupled with a loss of purpose. Seniors wonder what they should be doing. All their lives they have had jobs, kids to raise and important things to do. Suddenly the vast amounts of free time are overwhelming. Help your loved one to become engaged with groups or activities to renew their sense of purpose.

Coping with loss or a fear of dying is another frequent cause of depression in the elderly. When a spouse, friends or pets pass away, your loved one may face anxiety over the future and their place in it. Help them to work through their fears.

Helping your loved one to find peace of mind when they are depressed is essential. If you are worried about their ability to continue living independently, consider older care services. An elder care professional can check in with your loved one on a regular basis ensuring that they are healthy, happy and have connections with the outside world.

If you are concerned your loved one may be suffering from depression, please talk to their health care provider. Depression in the elderly is a serious matter and should not be overlooked.