Depression has often said to be a natural part of the aging process—but that’s not true. There’s nothing normal about depression, though according to the National Institute of Health (NIH) roughly 35 million Americans over the age of 65 are suffering from depression, 2 million are experiencing major depression.

The elderly have unique circumstances that can contribute to having bouts of depression. The loss of a loved one is devastating at any age but when a person loses their companion of decades the loss can be debilitating and bring on serious depression in the one left behind.

Seniors often suffer from health issues that may include chronic pain and loss of independence. Often the elderly are isolated and their distress and depression may not be recognized. Physicians who treat geriatric patients often overlook signs of depression and concentrate on physical ailments instead. Seniors are less likely to talk about their feelings of hopelessness or loneliness, preferring to keep their personal issues to themselves. Their generation was not encouraged to talk about their feelings and most feel uncomfortable doing so.

Most assume that it’s a natural process of aging that causes a person to slow down and lose interest in activities that once gave them joy, but that’s not true. Episodes of depression can be triggered by anxiety about declining financial situations, prescription medications that trigger depression, self-image issues brought on by surgery or disease. Feelings that they have lost their purpose in life because their children are grown, they no longer hold down a job and feel that they have nothing left to contribute can increase the risk of depression in seniors.

Untreated depression in the elderly can lead to a host of serious problems, including health issues, prescription drug abuse, increased risk of alcoholism, a higher mortality rate and the increased risk of suicide.

While it’s true that to some extent a person may slow down as they age, the majority of seniors are enjoying their lives and are staying active into their seventy and eighties. Depression is not a natural progression of aging and If you are a caregiver or simply have an elderly neighbor, be alert for the warning signs of depression.

You can help a lonely senior feel needed in your neighborhood by visiting, by including them in activities and by keeping an eye on their needs. Depression in seniors is a treatable illness and you can help by being aware of the symptoms and seeking help for seniors in your life who may be having difficulties. Whether you’re 18 or you’re 80, no one has to live with depression in their life.