There are common misconceptions about depression in older adulthood. Depression in older adults often goes untreated because some people identify depression symptoms as “normal” reactions to life stresses, losses, or part of the aging process. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, depression affects more than 6.5 million of the 35 million Americans aged 65 or older.
Depression is a true and treatable medical condition, like diabetes or hypertension. Without treatment, depression can impair an older adult’s ability to function and enjoy life, and can contribute to decline in overall health. Depression in older adults may be linked to several important risk factors. These include, among others: medical illness (particularly chronic, debilitating) , chronic pain, progressive sensory loss (i.e. deterioration in eye sight or hearing loss), frequent falls, cognitive impairment, history of depressive episode, or family history of depression, extended mourning due to death of a friend, family member, or other losses, and stressful life events (i.e. financial stressors, new illness/disability, change in living situation, retirement or job loss, and interpersonal conflict.
Whether or not your aging loved one is facing significant health challenges or not, it is important to pay close attention to their mental state and watch for clues that indicate they could be experiencing depression.
According to the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry, some of the most common signs and symptoms of depression in the elderly include:
- Persistent sadness
- Feeling slowed down
- Excessive worries about finances and health problems
- Frequent tearfulness
- Feeling worthless or helpless
- Weight changes
- Pacing or fidgeting
- Difficulty concentrating
- Somatic complaints (unexplained physical pain or gastrointestinal problems)
- Withdrawal from social activities
Effective treatment of depression in older adults can require more than one approach. The National Alliance on Mental Health reports that the treatment prognosis for depression is good. Treatment options include: medication, psychotherapy, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) or any combination of the three. Also, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) may be a treatment option to alleviate symptoms of mildly treatment-resistant depression.
Depression is a serious illness. Fortunately, it’s also treatable. If you think you have depression, please see a mental health professional for an evaluation and treatment. If you’re a loved one of someone who’s struggling, it’s important to help them find effective professional help right away.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Depression is Not a Normal Part of Growing Older,” Division of Population Health, updates January 31, 2017, retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/aging/mentalhealth/depression.htm.Ibid.