Frequently Asked Questions

5. How do I know if I am at risk for depression?

The risk factors for depression are family history, life experiences, and environment. If you have depression, you may have experienced it when you were younger, and may have a family history of the illness. You may also be going through difficult life events, such as physical or psychological trauma, losing a loved one, a difficult relationship with a family member or friend, or financial troubles. Any of these stressful experiences can lead to depression.

For older adults who experience depression for the first time later in life, other factors may be at play. Depression may be related to changes that occur in the brain and body as a person ages. For example, some older adults who are at risk for illnesses such as heart disease or stroke may have hardening and inflammation of the blood vessels, and blood may not be able to flow normally to the body's organs, including the brain. Over time, this blood vessel disease and restricted blood flow can damage nearby brain tissue and harm the nerve connections that help different parts of the brain communicate with each other. If this happens, an older adult with no family history of depression may develop what some doctors call "vascular depression."

Older adults may also experience depression as a result of brain changes caused by illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease. This type of depression can appear in the early stages of these diseases, before many symptoms appear.