What are the Signs of Elderly Depression?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Counselors may need extra empathy when discussing topics of depression with elderly clients.
Counselors may need extra empathy when discussing topics of depression with elderly clients.

There are some inherently difficult things about being elderly. Friends and spouses may die, changing financial circumstances can be tough to bear, and people may suffer from an increase in physical changes or conditions. Still, numerous people enjoy the twilight years and lust for life does not diminish. One thing that may dim enjoyment in later life is elderly depression, which is often not treated or underdiagnosed and can leave people suffering intensely.

Moodiness could be a sign of elderly depression.
Moodiness could be a sign of elderly depression.

There are many symptoms of elderly depression and these can be varied. Some people become more moody, emotional, or tearful. They may feel greater fatigue or have lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities. Social isolation is a common result of elderly depression. Other symptoms include changes in weight, difficulty sleeping, abuse of alcohol, sense that self worth is poor, and suicidality.

Spending time and talking with the elderly can help them to not feel depressed.
Spending time and talking with the elderly can help them to not feel depressed.

It’s important to understand that this form of depression doesn’t always manifest as sadness. Sometimes people will be more irritable and they will have an increase in physical symptoms, like a sudden boost in pain felt from arthritis, or constant headaches. Lack of interest in things may be fueled by an overall sense of tiredness or fatigue that isn’t due to medical cause. As recently discovered, poor sleep may be an indication that depression can occur or is present, and it does nothing to help boost mood or to keep people interested and engaged in their lives. Other physical symptoms may include memory loss or lack of ability to concentrate.

Constant grief over the death of a spouse may lead to elderly depression.
Constant grief over the death of a spouse may lead to elderly depression.

Since there are many stressors present for most people who are getting older, many are curious to know the difference between true medical depression and grief or stress. Generally, people look for several symptoms that could suggest elderly depression instead of merely reaction to trying or difficult circumstances. Even people in grief may be able to stay engaged with life, especially after an initial period of grieving. When they can feel nothing, enjoy nothing and are constantly overwhelmed by a state of sadness or an increase in physical conditions and when they cannot respond to the affectionate gestures of others, this may suggest true depression instead of just stress response or grief.

Visits by family and friends can ease or help prevent depression in the elderly.
Visits by family and friends can ease or help prevent depression in the elderly.

There are numerous causes for elderly depression, including lack of certain hormones like thyroid hormone, or poor nutrition that leads to things such as B-vitamin insufficiency. Some common medications may have depression as a side effect. People suspected of having this condition should be encouraged to see a doctor to examine possible physical causes or drug side effects.

Elderly people may have a difficult time expressing themselves when dealing with depression.
Elderly people may have a difficult time expressing themselves when dealing with depression.

Sometimes a cause isn’t clearly identified with physical exam and bloodwork and people will require treatment with antidepressants and therapy. This can remain complicated because in some people an inherent distrust of using “mood” drugs exists, and this attitude is particularly common among the elderly, though this is changing. Therapy may also be viewed with some suspicion. As an alternative, therapy groups comprised of peer group members might be more acceptable.

Elderly depression does not always manifest as sadness.
Elderly depression does not always manifest as sadness.

People in the depressed person’s life may be able to help by encouraging the person to get a physical exam, by spending time with the person, and by offering regular outings. Resistance to treatment can remain a huge problem for some families. When treatment is accepted and undertaken for elderly depression, it is usually very effective and people can regain their enjoyment of life.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments

Fa5t3r

@Mor - The next few decades are going to be interesting as many countries are quite top-heavy when it comes to population. Either we are going to end up with elderly people rebelling and using their numbers to put decent services in place, or, more likely, we will see a huge swelling of depression in the elderly as they are forced to worked longer in life, get by on small resources and suffer from more medical conditions.

Mor

@pastanaga - It might be that you're in a position where you've never had to worry about money and power, but a lot of older people know from experience that without one of those two things, and preferably both, you can be extremely vulnerable.

Unless you happen to be able to pay for an expensive retirement home, you might end up in a place where caring for the elderly means occasionally letting them watch TV together and otherwise shutting them in their rooms.

Once you're in a place like that, though, and if you have physical or mental deterioration there isn't much you can do to change your situation. Depression is inevitable. And, unfortunately, this is a common situation.

pastanaga

I've often wondered why there seems to be this attitude among the elderly that they don't want to go into a home. I mean, I feel like living by yourself without knowing many people or having many visitors is what can lead to depression in the elderly and being surrounded by your peers should actually be a good thing.

Not to mention, I'd hate the idea of being a burden on my family, even if they didn't see it that way. I'd much rather be where professionals would take care of me.

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    • Counselors may need extra empathy when discussing topics of depression with elderly clients.
      By: Rob
      Counselors may need extra empathy when discussing topics of depression with elderly clients.
    • Moodiness could be a sign of elderly depression.
      By: Tyler Olson
      Moodiness could be a sign of elderly depression.
    • Spending time and talking with the elderly can help them to not feel depressed.
      By: Sandor Kacso
      Spending time and talking with the elderly can help them to not feel depressed.
    • Constant grief over the death of a spouse may lead to elderly depression.
      By: Antonio Gravante
      Constant grief over the death of a spouse may lead to elderly depression.
    • Visits by family and friends can ease or help prevent depression in the elderly.
      By: Sergey Khamidulin
      Visits by family and friends can ease or help prevent depression in the elderly.
    • Elderly people may have a difficult time expressing themselves when dealing with depression.
      By: giideon
      Elderly people may have a difficult time expressing themselves when dealing with depression.
    • Elderly depression does not always manifest as sadness.
      By: Budimir Jevtic
      Elderly depression does not always manifest as sadness.
    • Deprederwho live alone and often skip meals may become malnourished.
      By: Grafvision
      Deprederwho live alone and often skip meals may become malnourished.