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Depression in Older Adults Signs, Symptoms, Treatment

Depression can happen to any of us as we age, but there are ways to boost how we feel and make our senior years healthy and happy.

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. 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.

Unfortunately, all too many depressed older adults fail to recognize the symptoms of depression, or don’t take the steps to get the help they need. There are many reasons why elderly depression is so often overlooked:

  • You may assume you have good reason to be down or that depression is just part of ageing.

  • You may be isolated—which in itself can lead to depression—with few around to notice your distress.

  • You may not realize that your physical complaints are signs of depression.

  • You may be reluctant to talk about your feelings or ask for help.

It’s important to realize that depression isn’t an inevitable part of getting older—nor is it 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 changes as you age—such as retirement, the death of loved ones, and 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.

Signs and symptoms of depression in older adults

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; thoughts of suicide.

  • Memory problems.

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

Causes of depression in older adults

As we grow older, we often face significant life changes that can increase the risk of depression. These can include:

Health problems. Illness and disability, chronic or severe pain, cognitive decline, and damage to your body image due to surgery or sickness can all be contributors to depression.

Loneliness and isolation. Factors such as living alone, a dwindling social circle due to deaths or relocation, decreased mobility due to illness or a loss of driving privileges can trigger depression.

Reduced sense of purpose. Retirement can bring with it a loss of identity, status, self-confidence, and financial security and increase the risk of depression. Physical limitations on activities you used to enjoy can also impact your sense of purpose.

Fears. These include a fear of death or dying as well as anxiety over financial problems, health issues, or abuse or neglect.

Recent bereavements. The death of friends, family members, and pets, or the loss of a spouse or partner are common causes of depression in older adults.

Medical conditions that can cause elderly depression

It's important to be aware that medical problems can cause depression in older adults and the elderly, either directly or as a psychological reaction to the illness. Any chronic medical condition, particularly if it is painful, disabling, or life-threatening, can lead to depression or make your depression symptoms worse.

These include:

  • Parkinson's disease

  • Stroke

  • Heart disease

  • Cancer

  • Diabetes

  • Thyroid disorders

  • Vitamin B12 deficiency

  • Dementia and Alzheimer's disease


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