How To Recognize Depression In The Elderly

Here’s an alarming statistic: according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, more than 6 million Americans aged 65 and above live with some form of depression. While unfortunate to note, recognizing depression in the elderly is often tricky as most assume the symptoms they exhibit are a normal part of aging.

Nothing can be farther from the truth. Contrary to popular belief, depression is not a normal part of the aging process. Unfortunately, since many seniors spend most of their time alone, picking up telltale signs of depression and distress can become even more challenging.

Left undetected and untreated, depression can significantly affect their health and their overall life quality.

Depression in the Elderly vs. in Younger Adults
Depression can impact older people differently. In the elderly, depression can last longer and can develop together with disabilities and other medical illnesses. Additionally, depression in the elderly is often linked with an increased risk of cardiac diseases and increased risk of death from illnesses.

Depression in the elderly has also been known to significantly reduce their ability to rehabilitate. Some studies conducted on nursing home patients suffering from certain medical conditions have shown that depression has increased their likelihood of dying from the condition.

Signs and Symptoms of Depression in the Elderly
Some of the red flags that point to depression in the elderly include:

  • Feelings of sadness and despair
  • Aggravated or unexplained pains and aches
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Neglecting personal care (forgetting meds, neglecting personal hygiene, and skipping meals)
  • Lack of energy and motivation
  • Loss of self-worth (feelings of self-loathing and worthlessness, may also worry about being a burden to loved ones)
  • Sleep disturbances (daytime sleepiness, oversleeping, difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep)
  • Slowed speech or movement
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Fixation on death
  • Memory problems
  • Increased use of alcohol (or other drugs)
  • Feelings of helplessness or hopelessness
  • Loss of interest in hobbies or socializing

Causes of Depression in the Elderly
Some of the significant life changes that cause depression in the elderly include:

(1)  Health problems. Disability and illness, cognitive decline, severe or chronic pain, and any damage to the body image secondary to sickness or surgery has been known to contribute to the development of depression.

(2)  Isolation and loneliness. Decreased mobility due to illnesses, living alone, and a dwindling social circle because of relocation or death might also trigger depression.

(3)  Fears. Anxiety and fears over health issues or financial problems may also cause depression. Fears about dying or death may also cause the condition to develop.

(4)  Recent bereavements. Death of pets, family members, friends, or the loss of a partner or spouse is also a prevalent cause of depression in the elderly.

Risk Factors for Depression in the Elderly
Factors that can help increase the risk of depression in the elderly include:

  • Stressful events
  • Being unmarried, single, widowed, or divorced
  • Stressful and traumatic life events
  • Lack of supportive social network

Physical conditions like atrial fibrillation, cancer, dementia, hypertension, and stroke may also increase one’s risk of developing depression. Other risk factors include:

  • Combination of certain medications
  • Family history of depressive disorder
  • Fear of death
  • Living alone
  • Previous history of depression
  • Substance abuse
  • Recent loss of a loved one or significant other

Treatment Options Available
Some of the treatment options for depression include:

(1)  Medication. One of the most common treatment options for depression is prescription medication. Antidepressants work by adjusting the chemical imbalance in the brain, so mood and stress levels are regulated.

(2)  Psychotherapy. Sometimes referred to as “talk therapy,” psychotherapy is also a prevalent treatment option for those suffering from depression. Psychotherapy allows your elderly loved ones to learn practical coping skills that can help them move forward.

More importantly, it can give them a venue where they can safely talk about their feelings. When combined with medication, psychotherapy has been proven to be one of the most powerful treatment options available for depression.

Other treatment options can include lifestyle changes and support groups depending on the symptoms they manifest and their unique circumstances.

It is essential to keep in mind that your elderly loved one might find being depressed challenging to accept, much more to live with. While unfortunate, there is still a negative stigma around depression that can leave your elderly loved one feeling weak or flawed. So while conversations with them can be challenging, it should be treated as crucial.

Written by: Melissa Andrews

About the Author…
Melissa Andrews is the Content Marketing Strategist for Paradise Living Centers, an assisted living center for seniors with locations in Paradise Valley and Phoenix, Arizona. In her spare time, she enjoys cooking and going on hiking trips with her siblings and cousins.