Editor's note: This is the first in a series of columns by Rhonda Everett of the Senior Center of Finney County on the topic of depression in older adults.

Have you lost interest in the activities you used to enjoy? Do you struggle with feelings of helplessness and hopelessness? Are you finding it harder and harder to get through the day? If so, you’re not alone. Depression can happen to any of us as we age, regardless of our background or achievements.

But depression is far from an inevitable part of getting older. With the right support, treatment and self-help strategies, you can boost the way you feel, cope better with life’s changes, and make your senior years a healthy, happy and fulfilling time.

Depression is a common problem in older adults. And the symptoms of elderly depression can affect every aspect of your life, impacting your energy, appetite, sleep, and interest in work, hobbies and relationships.

Depression isn’t a sign of weakness or a character flaw. It can happen to anyone, at any age, no matter your background or your previous accomplishments in life. While life’s changes as you age — such as retirement, the death of loved ones, declining health — can sometimes trigger depression, they don’t have to keep you down. No matter what challenges you face as you age, there are steps you can take to feel happy and hopeful once again and enjoy your golden years.

Recognizing depression in the elderly starts with knowing the signs and symptoms. Depression red flags include:

• Sadness or feelings of despair;

• unexplained or aggravated aches and pains;

• loss of interest in socializing or hobbies;

• weight loss or loss of appetite;

• feelings of hopelessness or helplessness;

• lack of motivation and energy;

• sleep disturbances (difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, oversleeping or daytime sleepiness);

• loss of self-worth (worries about being a burden, feelings of worthlessness or self-loathing);

• slowed movement or speech;

• increased use of alcohol or other drugs;

• fixation on death and thoughts of suicide;

• memory problems;

• neglecting personal care (skipping meals, forgetting meds, neglecting personal hygiene).

Self-help for elderly depression

It’s a myth to think that after a certain age older adults can’t learn new skills, try new activities or make fresh lifestyle changes. The truth is that the human brain never stops changing, so as an older adult, you’re just as capable as a young person of learning new things and adapting to new ideas that can help you recover from depression.

Overcoming depression involves finding new things you enjoy, learning to adapt to change, staying physically and socially active, and feeling connected to your community and loved ones.

Of course, when you’re depressed, taking action and putting self-help steps into action can be hard. Sometimes, just thinking about the things you should do to feel better can seem overwhelming. But small steps can make a big difference to how you feel. Taking a short walk, for example, is something you can do right now — and it can boost your mood for the next two hours. By taking small steps day by day, your depression symptoms will ease and you’ll find yourself feeling more energetic and hopeful again.

Rhonda Everett is the bookkeeper for the Senior Center of Finney County.