Depression in the Elderly: signs, symptoms & getting help

Depression is not a normal part of aging. Most older adults report being satisfied with life, but the losses and changes associated with aging can trigger depression in some older adults. Those at highest risk are those with a personal or family history of depression, failing health, substance abuse problems, or inadequate social support.

Causes and risk factors that contribute to depression in the elderly include:

• Loneliness and isolation – Living alone; a dwindling social circle due to deaths or relocation; decreased mobility due to illness or loss of driving privileges.
• Reduced sense of purpose – Feelings of purposelessness or loss of identity due to retirement or physical limitations on activities.
• Health problems – Illness and disability; chronic or severe pain; cognitive decline; damage to body image due to surgery or disease.
• Medications – Many prescription medications can trigger or exacerbate depression.
• Fears – Fear of death or dying; anxiety over financial problems or health issues.
• Recent bereavement – The death of friends, family members, and pets; the loss of a spouse or partner.

The signs and symptoms of depression include:

• Sadness
• Fatigue
• Abandoning or losing interest in hobbies or other pleasurable pastimes
• 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

Memory loss or trouble concentrating/thinking may also be caused by depression and screening for depression is an important part of a thorough diagnostic process for dementia/memory loss. There are additional clues to look for in older adults who deny feeling sad or depressed:

• Unexplained or aggravated aches and pains
• Hopelessness
• Helplessness
• Anxiety and worries
• Memory problems
• Loss of feeling of pleasure
• Slowed movement
• Irritability
• Lack of interest in personal care (skipping meals, forgetting medications, neglecting personal hygiene)

If you are concerned about signs in a loved one or friend, help them to get a good diagnosis. We invite you to contact us to discuss concerns and find resources to help.

We invite you to review our blog post on ways you can help your depressed elderly loved one and tips on how home caregivers can assist in overcoming depression in seniors.

*Adapted from American Academy of Family Physicians