Depression in Older Adults
Depression Is Not A Normal Part of Aging
(adapted from Debra Moore, PhD, www.the-bright-side.org)
Depression is not a normal part of aging. It's not just "a
case of the blues," and it's not something you can "just
pull yourself out of." It's not "all in your head."
we all go through difficult times. The senior population, like
all age groups, has its own challenges. Retirement, children moving
away, loss of spouse or friends, and changing medical concerns
can all cause temporary sadness or conflict. But these feelings
diminish as we meet these challenges.
Depression is more serious.
Sadness, hopelessness, or irritability persist and worsen. Thinking
slows down, concentration suffers, and decisions become more difficult
to make. Hobbies and friends which once brought pleasure are now
unappealing or even irritating. Appetite and weight may change.
Sleep is often disturbed and fatigue may become a constant companion.
Thoughts of death may begin coming to mind, and a desire to "just
fall asleep and not wake up" may
People who are depressed are often afraid to tell others
how they are feeling. They may think they are a failure for "not
snapping out of it." When depression occurs, our thinking
changes and we become full of self-doubt and self-blame.
depression? We know depression is associated with an imbalance
of certain chemicals, called neurotransmitters, in the brain. Research
has shown that people who have a family history of depression are
at increased risk of becoming depressed. Life events may serve
as triggers. These might include death of a loved one, a serious
illness or chronic condition, or the loss of a job or a marriage.
Sometimes, though, there is no apparent cause for depression.
Sometimes, it just happens.
Treatment can be both medical and psychological.
A number of very effective medications can help restore sleep,
appetite, and energy. At least some counseling is usually necessary
to sustain recovery. This helps the depressed person to identify
and correct the distortions in their thinking, and to refocus their
energy on productive, satisfying goals. Support groups, often free
or low cost, are also very helpful.
Most people with depression will respond well to treatment. The
help and support necessary to begin enjoying your life again are
available. It's never too late to feel good again.
Signs and Symptoms of Depression in the
“My father doesn’t seem depressed; he’s just
cranky and irritable. He is mad all the time.”
“After I retired, I started drinking a lot.”
“I don’t want to be a burden. My family would be better off
if I died.”
Recognizing depression starts with knowing the signs and symptoms.
- Abandoning or losing interest in hobbies or other pleasurable
- Social withdrawal and isolation (reluctance to be with friends,
engage in activities, or leave home)
- Weight loss; loss of appetite
- Sleep disturbances (difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep,
oversleeping, or daytime sleepiness)
- Loss of self-worth (worries about being a burden, feelings
of worthlessness, self-loathing)
- Increased use of alcohol or other drugs
- Fixation on death; suicidal thoughts or attempts
Depression without Sadness (www.helpguide.org/mental/depression)
Older adults don't always fit the typical picture of depression.
Many depressed seniors don’t claim to feel sad at all.
They may complain, instead, of low motivation, a lack of energy,
or physical problems. In fact, physical complaints, such as arthritis
pain or headaches that have gotten worse, are often the predominant
symptom of depression in the elderly.
Older adults with depression
are also more likely to show symptoms of anxiety or irritability.
They may constantly wring their hands, pace around the room,
or fret obsessively about money, their health, or the state of
Additional signs of depression in older adults can
include the following:
- Unexplained or aggravated aches and pains
- Lack of interest in personal care
- Excessive worry
- Loss of feeling of pleasure
Help for Depression
“I just could not get the nerve to ask my doctor about my low mood. At
a visit for my high blood pressure, my doctor asked me how I was sleeping and
I finally mentioned that I don’t sleep because I worry. She asked
if I felt depressed and I finally told her. I wish I had said it so much
earlier. She did not seem surprised at all and was very helpful. She
even said it was common. I would give other people that advice. Don’t
wait as long as I did.” - Kay
“I finally realized I was depressed when I didn’t
even want to play cards. I had been playing with a group
of men for years and always enjoyed it. When I stopped going
to my weekly game, my daughter called my doctor and said she
thought I was depressed. I was embarrassed that she did
that - treating me like a kid, but I guess she was right. I take
a medicine now that does help. I think I was just too stubborn
to admit I had a problem.” - Al
“Once my elderly neighbor stopped driving, she seemed
to become depressed. She
stopped doing her shopping and errands. She doesn’t seem
to enjoy the children in the neighborhood like she did. I
mentioned this to her son when he visited her. He said
he had no idea, but would talk to his mother. I
hope she gets help; we miss the old Mrs. Anderson.” -
You don’t need to suffer with depression alone. Speak to
someone you can trust such as a family member, friend, health care
provider, social worker, or clergy member. Depression can be treated
in the elderly and it is just as effective as it is in younger
people. It is very important that you see your health
care provider. Many medical conditions
and medicines can affect mood or compound depression. Doctors
and nurse practitioners commonly treat patients including elder
patients with depression. You will not say anything that
will surprise your health care provider. He or she wants
to help you, but you need to express your concern. Sometimes, office
visits are quick and time is taken up with other health issues.
Understandably, it is difficult to say what is worrying you. The
following are some examples of ways you can begin the conversation
with your doctor about depression.
wonder if any of my medications could be affecting my mood”
don’t feel as energetic and happy as I used to”
can’t seem to get over this sadness that I have felt ever
Depression can be treated with therapy or medication or both. Talk
to your health care provider about what might be helpful for you.
Self-help for Mild Depression (adapted
you are depressed, you may not want to do anything or see anybody,
but isolation and inactivity only make depression worse. The more
active you are—physically, mentally, and socially—the
better you’ll feel.
Some ways to combat and prevent depression
include the following:
- Getting out in to the world – Try not to stay cooped
up at home all day. Go to the park, take a trip to the hairdresser,
or have lunch with a friend.
- Connecting to others – Limit the time you’re alone.
If you can’t get out to socialize, invite loved ones
to visit you, or keep in touch over the phone or email.
- Participating in activities you enjoy - Pursue whatever hobbies
or pastimes bring or used to bring you joy.
- Volunteering your time – Helping others is one of the
best ways to feel better about yourself and regain perspective.
- Taking care of a pet – Get a pet to keep you company.
- Learning a new skill – Pick something that you’ve
always wanted to learn, or that sparks your imagination and
- Enjoying jokes and stories – Laughter provides a mood
boost, so swap humorous stories and jokes with your loved ones,
watch a comedy, or read a funny book.
- Maintaining a healthy diet – Avoid eating too much
sugar and junk food. Choose healthy foods that provide nourishment
and energy, and take a daily multivitamin.
- Exercising - Even if you’re ill, frail, or disabled,
there are many safe exercises you can do to build your strength
and boost your mood—even from a chair or wheelchair.
Please, if you are feeling depressed, reach out and tell
someone. Depression is very common in the elderly as
well as in the general population. Depression, just like
physical illness, can be treated.