Combating Senior Depression

Almost everyone has an occasional day when they feel down. As we age these days of feeling down seem to become more frequent as we deal with the effects of aging. But when a low mood persists, it may be more than a case of the blues. It could be depression.

People of all ages can develop depression, including older adults. As reported by the National Council on Aging, about 27 percent of older adults met the criteria for depression when assessed by ageing service providers. Recognizing signs of depression and getting proper treatment is essential for seniors to maintain a good quality of life. 

Recognizing Signs of Depression

It’s normal to have feelings of sadness or a low mood from time to time. Sadness can be a typical reaction to a specific event, such as the loss of a loved one or financial difficulties. But clinical depression is different. Depression usually involves symptoms that persist and interfere with everyday life. 

According to the National Institute on Aging, symptoms of depression in older adults can be different than in younger people. For instance, sadness may not be the main symptom. Instead, seniors with depression may commonly have the following symptoms:

  • Confusion
  • Memory problems
  • Moving slowly
  • Physical problems, such as headaches or stomach problems
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Isolation

Why Depression May Occur as We Age

While studies often show that many older adults are satisfied with their lives, depression is also somewhat common in seniors. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, depression affects about 6.5 million adults over age 65. So, why are older adults susceptible to depression? There could be a variety of reasons, including the following:

Health problems: Certain illnesses are more likely to occur as we age, which can result in chronic pain or other symptoms. Plus, some diseases themselves can lead to depression as one of the symptoms. For example, Parkinson’s disease, strokes, and dementia can cause depression.

A decreased sense of purpose: Some seniors may lose their sense of purpose when they stop working or after children have grown up and moved away.

Grief: Older adults may start to lose significant people in their life, such as a partner, sibling, or friend. It’s not uncommon for seniors to suffer multiple loses over time. While sadness dealing with grief is normal, it can lead to depression in some cases.

Loneliness: In some cases, a once busy social calendar starts to become a little empty. Seniors may lose their social circle as friends move away or retire. Decreased mobility may also limit social opportunities for some older adults.

Ways to Deal with Depression

Depression is not a normal part of aging. Left untreated, depression in seniors can increase the risk of cognitive decline and physical illnesses. As with people of all ages, depression in older adults can also greatly decrease quality of life.

Fortunately, there are several ways to treat and deal with depression in seniors. Consider the following suggestions:

Seek help: If you or a loved one have symptoms of depression, it’s best to seek professional help. Depression is not a flaw or something to be embarrassed about. Depression in seniors can often be successfully treated with counseling, lifestyle changes, or medications. Sometimes a combination of all of the above can help. Your doctor is a good place to start for a referral to mental health services in your area.

Stay connected: Finding ways to stay connected to family, friends, and your community helps decrease the risk of depression as you age. Join a club, volunteer for a cause you care about or plan a weekly get together with friends.

Learn something new: It’s never too late to learn something new. Try something you always wanted to learn but never had the time, such as playing the piano or painting. Take a class or sign up for lessons. Learning a new skill helps keep your brain active and allows you to meet new people.

Get moving: Regular exercise is a great way to combat depression and stay healthy. Exercise releases certain chemicals in the brain that may boost mood. You don’t have to run a marathon to reap the benefits of exercise. Do something you enjoy and will stick with. Whether you take dance lessons, walk, or lift weights, try to get some exercise on most days of the week. I know for myself that with regular exercise that I’m able to get rid of the blue moods.

The bottom line is depression in seniors is not something you or a loved one just needs to live with. It’s also not something that you should just “snap” out of. In some cases, it requires professional help. But help is available to help you feel like yourself again.



Click to access Depression_Older_Persons_FactSheet_2009.pdf