Q: My wife, who is only in her mid-60s, suffered a serious stroke last year. Even though she has made significant progress in regaining her independence, she could not return to work. My wife had planned on working for several more years, so she didn’t welcome retirement. She has become very withdrawn and I suspect she may be depressed. She tends to be a little defensive if I suggest she isn’t capable of doing some thing so I am careful about what I say to her. What should I be doing?

A: Depression is the most prevalent emotional disorder in older adults, impacting the lives of approximately 20 percent of people over age 65. Far too often, the condition becomes an undiagnosed and constant factor for some in the latter part of their lives. This is unfortunate; statistics show the majority of people can improve and return to their “normal” activities if adequate treatment is received.

It is understandable and not unusual for someone dealing with a life-threatening medical condition or who has experienced a significant loss to become depressed. Additionally, some medications used to treat cancer, heart problems, high blood pressure and arthritis are believed to trigger depression or intensify it.

Recognizing the common symptoms of depression is extremely important. Look for changes in eating or sleep disturbance, fatigue, irritability, lack of concentration, ongoing sadness, mentions of thoughts of death or suicide, or loss of interest in pleasurable activities. If your wife has been struggling with several of these feelings for more than two weeks, consider this a red flag and urge her to seek professional help.

The first step is for your wife to clearly communicate with her physician. In order to provide quality care, all health care providers should be aware of any symptoms or problems that could have an adverse effect on treatment. It may be in your wife’s best interest to be referred to a mental health clinician for therapy.

It is unnecessary for anyone to needlessly suffer from depression. The shame is not in the depression itself, rather in not coming to terms with depression and seeking appropriate treatment.

Be supportive, sympathetic and patient with your wife. Gently address any issues she may have about admitting and accepting her problem. Your wife may remember a time when there was a real stigma about mental illness and very little understanding of the condition. Without question, with all your wife has been through, she has every reason to be struggling with depression.

Don’t give up — it may take some time to convince your wife to address her feelings. Continue introducing the subject compassionately, emphasizing that getting help is not a sign of weakness.

Rosanne DiStefano is executive director of Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley. Do you have a question? E-mail ro@esmv.org. Free elder care advisers are available to speak with families about community services and other issues at 978-683-7747.

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