Depression and the Elderly
Depression affects 15% of older adults over the age of 65. Depression is not a normal part of aging and is different from sadness. Unlike young adults, elders usually have more than one co-morbidity which can cause and/or affect depression. Being aware of common causes, signs and symptoms and treatment options is critical knowledge for healthcare workers, older adults and anyone in contact with a person over the age of 65.
Common factors that cause depression in the elderly include:
- Health issues
- Loss of purpose
- Recent bereavement
- Loss of independence
- Sleep problems
- Moving from home
- Stressful life events
Signs and Symptoms of Depression in Older Adults
It’s important to recognize the common signs of depression in older adults. According to Geriatric Mental Health Foundation:
Clinical depression is characterized by symptoms that interfere with the ability to function normally for a prolonged period of time. The symptoms of depression in older adults vary greatly and may include:
Persistent sadness lasting two or more weeks
Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
Feeling slowed down
Withdrawing from regular social activities
Excessive worries about finances and health problems
Pacing and fidgeting
Feeling worthless or helpless
Weight/appearance changes or frequent tearfulness
Thoughts of suicide or death
Depression is highly treatable. Physicians are able to prescribe very effective medications but there are also other steps an elder can take to potentially help alleviate depression.
The following is a list of non-medication related interventions
- Exercise regularly (as long as it’s ok with your doctor).
- Practice good sleeping habits and avoid sleeping aides when possible.
- Join support groups.
- Drink less alcohol. Overuse of alcohol can make depression worse.
- Make time for friends and loved ones. Being social is an important for mental well-being.
- Talk to someone you trust. Talking to someone about your feelings can help you gain perspective and alleviate stress.
- Volunteer (as able). Finding a cause to support may will help you find needed purpose.
It is important that elders seek medical help if symptoms, beyond regular sadness, persist for more than two weeks. As a healthcare provider, recognizing the signs and symptoms plays an important role in the well-being of those you care for.