Depression in Older Adults

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An elderly person’s depression can be alleviated by a combination of diagnosis, medication, and lifestyle adjustments. Depressive symptoms such as unhappiness or a lack of interest in once-enjoyable pursuits are not uncommon among older persons.

Depression in Older Adults
Depression in Older Adults

Adults 65 years of age and older may have depressive symptoms as a result of life changes, drugs, or chronic health conditions. This means that symptoms can be missed since they appear to resemble the natural progression of life’s milestones.

Depression, on the other hand, is not a normal aspect of aging.

An accurate diagnosis and an effective treatment plan for you and any other problems you may have are only possible when you share your symptoms with your doctor if you are 65 years old or older.

How common is it?

Depression is a widespread ailment that affects millions of people every year. The National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH) estimates that 8.4 percent of individuals in the United States will experience a severe depressive episode at some point in their lives.

More than 1% to 5% of older persons are believed to suffer from serious depression, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Patients in the hospital and those who need home health care can both see this percentage rise to roughly 11.5 percent and 13.5 percent respectively.

Depression is characterized by the following symptoms:

The following symptoms may be present if you or an elderly relative suffer from depression:

  • Loss of pleasure
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Changes in sleeping habits
  • Not feeling “up” to seeing people
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Poor concentration
  • Forgetfulness
  • Suicidal thoughts

These symptoms might be moderate or severe, and they can linger for two weeks or more.

Does it seem different in older people?

There are some variances in the signs and symptoms of depression among the various age groups. In older persons, sorrow may not be the most common symptom, according to the National Institutes on Aging (NIA).

An older adult may claim to “feel numb” or demonstrate a lack of interest in once enjoyable activities. It is possible that some people will not have any symptoms at all.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), some symptoms—such as indecisiveness, memory loss, and slower responses—may be felt more strongly by older adults than younger ones.

It’s critical not to overlook these symptoms because they can impair basic daily functions like driving.

Cultural influences

Depression in elderly persons might be influenced by cultural factors. Physical complaints, such as stomach problems, may be more appropriate to discuss in some cultures than emotional ones.
When people of color think of mental health problems as “a personal weakness,” they are less likely to seek help, says Mental Health America.

Depression vs. Alzheimer’s: Which is worse?

Depressive symptoms, such as forgetfulness and exhaustion, can potentially be signs of dementia. Depression may be a precursor to the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

As a result, if you or an elderly loved one is suffering any of these symptoms, it is imperative that you seek the advice of a healthcare professional.

Causes and risk factors

There is no known cause of depression, although there are a number of factors that may play a role in its development:

  • Low serotonin and norepinephrine levels
  • Traumatic childhood events
  • Environmental triggers
  • Genetics
  • Family history

In the case of those above the age of 65, the following factors may come into play:

  • Retirement
  • Empty nest
  • Isolation
  • Decrease in physical strength or ability
  • Bereavement or widowhood
  • Substance use
  • Low household income

Medical risks for seniors

In people with chronic diseases like heart disease or stroke, depression is more likely to occur.

The National Council on Aging estimates that 80 percent of people over the age of 65 have at least one long-term health issue. Nearly 70% of Medicare beneficiaries have two or more insurance policies.

As a result, depression among the elderly is more common. Among the other elements that could play a role:

  • Decreased folate levels
  • Specific heart medications such as beta-blockers and angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors

According to a study done in 2022  on 55 to 75-year-olds, long-term health conditions have a significant impact on older persons’ depression and vice versa.

For some people, the concern of declining health due to a long-term health condition limited their level of independence, which in turn exacerbated their depression symptoms. As a result of their social isolation, many people were unable to seek help or receive medical treatment.

Additional research is needed because this study relied on self-reporting.


For a first diagnosis, you’ll likely see a healthcare expert. Depending on your medical history, they may also request a list of your current drugs and ask about your symptoms.

It’s possible that they’ll do laboratory testing to find out what’s causing your symptoms.

Referral to an expert in mental health may follow.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5)., says that if you’ve had depressive symptoms every day for more than two weeks, you may be diagnosed with depression (DSM-5).

Symptoms may appear differently in different people. It’s possible that you won’t have the same symptoms or feel them to the same degree as someone else.


Medications and counseling are commonly used together to treat depression.

A doctor may prescribe antidepressants in order to keep a patient’s mood in check.

People over the age of 65 are frequently administered SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors).

SSRIs have been shown to be effective in treating both Alzheimer’s disease and depression, according to 2019 research. An expert in healthcare or mental health will work with you to keep an eye out for possible side effects or interactions between medications you’re already taking.

This type of therapy, known as psychotherapy, provides an environment where you can openly discuss aspects of your life that may be triggering your depression. There is evidence that talk therapy can be tailored to fit the requirements of older persons, according to a 2017 review. Older persons who are unable to leave their homes can benefit from virtual therapy.



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