Depression is an illness affecting the body, mood, thoughts, sleep, and more. While we may think that it is normal for seniors to feel the blues, it is not.
Depression is a mental health issue that should be diagnosed and treated in seniors, just as it is for younger people. Because depression affects approximately seven million Americans age 65 and older, it is critical that caregivers know the signs and symptoms of depression in the elderly and get their senior loved ones the help they deserve.
Certain Groups of Seniors are at a Higher Risk of Being Depressed
Depression in seniors often goes unrecognized or mistaken for another condition. But, caregivers are in a better position of being able to know if their senior loved one is depressed if they know which seniors are at a higher risk of being depressed.
If your loved one resides in the hospital, receives home care, or resides in a nursing home, be aware that their chances of having depression are significantly higher than those of seniors who are independent.
Caregivers should be aware that seniors who have had a stroke, coronary artery disease, diabetes, or hypertension are at a higher risk of being depressed.
Seniors who take medications such as steroids, benzodiazepines, and beta blockers also are at a higher risk for depression, as are seniors who have recently experienced a loss of independence, social isolation, or bereavement.
In fact, about 10-20% of seniors who lose a spouse develop significant depression within a year of the loss.
Common Causes of Depression in Seniors
Caregivers also need to recognize that certain life changes also put their senior loved ones at an increased risk for depression. Causes and other factors that impact seniors and contribute to depression include…
- Health issues, including illness and disability, chronic or severe pain, cognitive decline, and a damaged body image due to surgery or disease
- Loneliness and isolation caused by living alone, a smaller social circle due to deaths or relocation, and decreased mobility because of illness or loss of driving ability * Reduced sense of purpose because of retirement or physical limitations
- Fear of death or dying, or anxiety due to financial or health issues
- Recent loss, such as the death of friends, family members, pets, spouses, or partners
Symptoms of Depression in Seniors
Caregivers also need to be aware of the fact that depression often looks different in seniors than it does in younger people. For example, younger people often cry when they are depressed, but older people often do not exhibit signs of sadness and do not admit to being sad.
One of the best ways to recognize depression in seniors is to be on the lookout for significant mood changes. These mood changes may coincide with retirement, loss of independence, or the death of a spouse. While sadness is normal under these circumstances, signs of depression in these events include insomnia, eating habit changes, and loss of enjoyment in hobbies. Other depression symptoms in seniors include frequent anxiety, irritability, and talk of suicide.
Still other signs and symptoms of depression in seniors include:
- Losing interest in things that once brought them pleasure
- Withdrawing and isolating themselves, including a reluctance to be with friends, to participate in activities, or to leave home
- Sudden weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Trouble sleeping, including difficulty falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep, oversleeping, and daytime sleepiness
- Loss of self-worth, including expressing concern about being a burden, feeling worthless, or exhibiting self-loathing
- Increasing the use of alcohol and/or drugs
- Fixating on death and sharing suicidal thoughts
- Attempting suicide
- Complaining of low motivation
- Exhibiting a lack of energy
- Experiencing physical problems, such as unexplained or aggravated aches and pains
- Having memory trouble
- Slowing their movements or speech
- Neglecting personal care, such as skipping meals, forgetting medication, or neglecting personal hygiene
Though it may be impossible for your loved one to live completely on their own, keep in mind it’s important for them to maintain a sense of independence as much as possible. Simple modifications can be made to your home to improve self-reliance and likely provide a better state of mental wellbeing.
Caregivers have the most contact with their senior loved ones, so it is important to be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of depression in the elderly.
If you have concerns about your loved one’s mental health, share your concerns with their healthcare provider so that they can be properly diagnosed and treated.
It is also good to seek professional counseling
Jim Vogel and his wife, Caroline, created ElderAction.org after they began caring for their ailing parents. Through that rewarding and sometimes difficult process they’ve learned a lot about senior care and specifically the need for more effective senior mental health and support. Their site offers elder-positive resources and other helpful information on aging. In his spare time, Jim loves fishing, reading, and spending time with his kids.