Signs of Depression in Seniors - Crozer-Keystone Health System - PA

Published on January 13, 2016

Signs Your Elderly Loved One May be Depressed

Signs of Depression in Seniors

Seniors may wrongly misidentify symptoms
of depression as “normal” reactions to aging,
losses, life stresses and illness.

Depression is more than feeling sad – it’s a mood disorder that causes persistent feelings of sadness, loss of interest and has a great impact on how you feel, think and behave. And depression can affect anyone at any age, including the elderly.

However, depression affects the elderly differently than it does younger people. Depression in the elderly often comes with other medical illnesses and disabilities and unfortunately lasts longer.

As people grow older, significant life changes put them at risk of depression. Health problems, disabilities, illness, chronic pain, cognitive decline, loneliness and isolation, feeling a reduced sense of purpose, fears about death, anxiety over health issues or finances, and loss of loved ones are all potential triggers for depression in elderly individuals.

Elderly adults suffering from depression often have an increased risk of cardiac diseases – depression nearly doubles their risk of cardiac disease and increases their risk of death from illness. Depression has also been linked with an increased risk of death following a heart attack in the elderly. Additionally, depression reduces an elderly individual’s ability to rehabilitate from illness or injury.

Because of that, it makes it even more important to know the signs and symptoms of depression in an elderly loved one to have them evaluated and treated, even if their depression is mild. Although depression is actually quite common in the elderly, it can be difficult to identify – elderly people and their loved ones may wrongly misidentify symptoms of depression as “normal” reactions to aging, losses, life stresses and illness.

Elderly people may also avoid acknowledging that they are depressed – the stigma associated with mental illness and psychiatric treatment is more powerful among older adults than younger people.

Red flags that an elderly person may have depression include:

  • Sadness
  • Fatigue
  • Social withdrawal and isolation
  • Abandoning or losing interest in activities and hobbies they once enjoyed
  • Loss of appetite or weight loss
  • Having trouble falling or staying asleep, oversleeping or feeling sleepy during the day
  • Loss of self-worth, including worrying about being a burden, self-loathing and feelings of worthlessness

Depression and sadness seem to go hand in hand, but some depressed seniors don’t report feeling sad at all. Rather, they suffer from a lack of energy, low motivation or physical problems such as arthritis pain or worsening headaches.

Other clues that a senior may have major depression include:

  • Anxiety
  • Memory problems
  • Unexplained or aggravated aches and pains
  • Slowed movement and speech
  • Irritability
  • Neglecting personal care, such as forgetting to take medication, skipping meals, and neglecting personal hygiene

Depression isn’t a sign of weakness and it doesn’t have to be something your elderly loved one has to live with. With the right treatment and support from medical professionals, friends and family can help your elderly loved one get back to living a happy and healthy life.

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