Depression in Older Adults – How to Spot (And Treat) It

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Old age comes with plenty of changes. Mental illness like major depression, however, is not a normal part of the aging process. Unfortunately, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), older people experience greater risk of depression. Have an older person in your life that you think may be at risk of mental health problems? Don’t worry. There is plenty you can do to help.

Keep reading to learn more about how to spot depression in older adults, what causes this condition, and how to treat it. We promise that depression is treatable.

Signs and Symptoms

Depression is much more than simply “feeling sad.” In fact, symptoms of depression in older people may present differently than they do in younger people. According to the National Institute on Aging, people with late-life depression are more likely than younger people to exhibit signs of emptiness than sadness, for example.

Common signs of depression in the elderly include:

  • Feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness
  • Feelings of anxiety or “nothingness”
  • Loss of interest
  • Mood changes or irritability
  • Becoming increasingly isolated
  • Fatigue or lethargy
  • Lack of exercise among someone previously active
  • New, unexplained aches and pains
  • Appetite changes and changes in weight
  • Getting too much or too little sleep
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts

People who suspect they or someone they love is experiencing these symptoms should seek professional help. A primary health care provider or mental health professional can diagnose depression, which is necessary in order to receive treatment for the condition.

Causes and Risk Factors

The exact cause of depression will vary by individual; sometimes it’s the result of a single event or a combination of factors. Commonly cited contributing factors to depression include:

  • Chronic medical conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease
  • Mood disorders
  • Substance abuse
  • Social isolation
  • Family history of clinical depression (if close family members experience mental disorders)
  • Traumatic life events or disruptive life changes, such as suddenly becoming a caregiver
  • Side effects from certain medications
  • Sleep disorders
  • Poor physical health

Having depression also puts someone at greater risk for developing new or worsening health problems. For example, some research states that late-life depression is tied to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. So, no matter which way you look at it, treating depression is not only crucial for someone’s emotional well-being, but their overall sense of wellness.

Treatment Options

Treatment of depression will vary depending on what is causing it in the first place. That said, treatment is possible, and people currently living with depression can find relief and achieve a high quality of life by finding the treatment method(s) that work best for their unique situation.

Possible treatments include:

  • Antidepressants
  • Psychotherapy (talk therapy)
  • Receiving care for other health conditions that contribute to depression
  • Support groups
  • Socialization
  • Electroconvulsive therapy (shock therapy)
  • Physical activity

Further Information on Geriatric Mental Health

The following mental health resources for older adults can help you learn more about this condition and find mental health services near you.