Seniors and Depression: Know the Signs

Depression is a serious mental illness that takes a big toll on your quality of life. Depression is common among elderly Americans, but it manifests differently than in young people. Knowing the signs and symptoms of depression in the elderly can help you determine whether your aging loved one is suffering from this highly treatable condition.

Why Depression is Different in Seniors
Even though most people who receive treatment for depression fully recover, only 10 percent of seniors who suffer from it get help.

One reason is that aging adults often exhibit symptoms of depression differently than younger people. As a result, depression in seniors is often mistaken for symptoms of other illnesses or the side effects of certain medications.

Another reason is that unlike younger generations, many seniors still perceive a stigma against mental illness and are less likely to admit to feeling depressed or to seek help for depression. It’s often up to family members to initiate diagnosis and treatment.

The Effects of Depression on Seniors’ Health
Depression increases the risk of a number of physical health problems, particularly heart disease. It also increases the risk of substance abuse and addiction, which almost always make depression worse. Depression is a major factor for suicide, particularly among people between the ages of 80 and 84, who are at more than twice the risk of suicide as the general population.

Risk Factors for Depression in Seniors

Stressful life events, such as the loss of a loved one or living with a chronic health problem, is one of the most common causes of depression in adults over 65. Other risk factors for depression include:

  • Being on certain medications or combination of medications.
  • A family history of depression.
  • Being single, widowed, or divorced.
  • Social isolation and loneliness.
  • Chronic pain.
  • A deep fear of aging and dying.
  • Substance abuse, which can cause the onset of depression.

Recognizing Depression in the Elderly
The most common signs of depression in the elderly include:

  • Unexplained aches and pains that can’t be attributed to another cause.
  • A loss of interest in activities once enjoyed.
  • An unexplained loss of appetite or weight loss.
  • A lack of energy and motivation.
  • Sleep problems, including insomnia and oversleeping.
  • A fixation on death.
  • Memory problems.
  • Increasing neglect of personal care, including grooming and taking medications.
  • Slower speech or movements.
  • Increased substance use.

Treatment Works
Treatment for depression works to improve health and restore lives. Treatment ideally involves a combination of therapy, medication, and complementary treatments like massage, meditation, and exercise. Getting professional help for depression can improve your loved one’s quality of life and sense of well being, and staying vigilant its signs will help ensure swift, successful treatment.