Recognizing Depression in the Elderly


The Golden Years of retirement are supposed to be enjoyed, but it’s a sad reality that many seniors spend their retirement yeas battling the demons associated with mental health disorders. What’s worse is the fact that Americans over 65 have the highest rate of suicide than any other age group. Statistically, the percentage increases even more for white males over the age of 85.

elderly mental healthMental health conditions in the elderly vary just as greatly as they do in the general population, but can be exacerbated by age-related conditions such as dementia or sometimes by prescribed medications, such as those used to treat Hepatitis C.

Some suggest that depression and other mental health disorders in the elderly go untreated because of the stigma associated with such diseases in the older generations, delaying and often preventing suffering seniors from speaking with their physicians about their concerns. Suicide is the worst case scenario, but many others are lacking the quality of life they deserve when diseases like depression are present.

Depression is often the most prevalent of mental health disorders affecting the elderly. Many older adults find themselves questioning their worth especially as those who are no longer physically or mentally able to do the tasks they once found to be fulfilling. Additionally, many are dealing with grief after the death of a loved one.

Detecting depression

There are some key identifiers to help you recognize if someone you love is suffering from depression including:

  • Increase in sadness and irritability
  • Excessive Fatigue
  • Social withdrawal and isolation
  • Loss of pleasure in activities once enjoyed
  • Weight loss or loss of appetite
  • Vague physical symptoms not associated with disease or aging
  • Loss of self-worth
  • Fixation on death and dying
  • Sleep disturbances, including daytime sleepiness and oversleeping
  • Increased use of alcohol and other drugs

Many of these symptoms can be have organic causes associated with aging. Speaking with your healthcare provider can help distinguish between depression and other symptoms. In addition, the diagnosis of certain diseases can increase the risk for depression including:

  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Heart Disease
  • Stroke
  • Cancer
  • Alzheimer’s Disease/Dementia
  • Diabetes
  • Vitamin B-12 deficiency
  • Thyroid Disorders
  • Lupus

What can you do?

If you believe your loved one is suffering from depression or any other mental health disorder it’s important to seek medical attention. There are treatment regimens that can help ranging from medication to therapy.

But, there are several things you can do to help a loved one suffering with depression:

  • Encourage exercise. Exercise has been proven to boost mood naturally through an increase in hormones and endorphins.
  • Encourage socialization: Helping seniors find enjoyment in social outlets allows them to reconnect with others. They may find that they are not alone and others are feeling the same way. And, they may have a little fun too.
  • Support them in their treatment: It’s important that caregivers and other loved ones are supportive of the treatment regimens. Do not assert your beliefs about depression or therapies unless you can do so in a positive manner. Go with them to their doctor appointments and discuss treatment options and what symptoms you’ve been seeing.
  • Visit: Be sure you visit your loved one. Talk with them about how their feeling and assure them you will be there to help.
  • Take threats seriously: If your loved one is making threats about harming themselves, be sure you contact a healthcare provider.

Depression is not a diagnosis of crazy. It is an illness just like heart disease and diabetes and needs to be treated as such. Elderly individuals are just as likely to be afflicted as anyone else and recognizing the symptoms is the first line of defense in getting help. If you or someone you love is suffering from depression or other forms of mental health disorders it’s extremely important to seek professional help.


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