Depression in the Elderly

Depression is a different kind of sickness. It’s quiet and unseen, and almost unnoticeable unless you’re really paying attention. It can strike anyone of any age, gender, social class, or monetary status. However, with all the changes that happen in later life, such as retirement, death of loved ones, increased isolation, and medical problems, it has a tendency to greatly impact the lives of the elderly. It’s important to realize and remember that it goes beyond just a simple change in someone’s mood. It can affect energy, sleep, appetite, and physical health. It’s also important to remember that depression isn’t inevitable and that there are lots of ways you can help battle it. Before you do so, however, it’s important to recognize some of the symptoms of depression:

  • Sadness
  • Fatigue
  • Abandoning or losing interest in hobbies or pastimes
  • Social withdrawal and isolation
  • Weight loss or loss of appetite
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Loss of self-worth
  • Increased use of alcohol or other drugs
  • Fixation on death; suicidal thoughts or attempts

While depression and sadness might seem to be one in the same, many older people who are depressed often say they are not sad at all. Instead, they may talk of low motivation, no energy, or physical issues. Problems like arthritis pain or worsening headaches are often a first indicator someone may be suffering from depression. Some clues that may hint at depression include the following:

  • Unexplained or aggravated aches and pains
  • Feeling hopeless or helpless
  • Anxiety and worries
  • Memory problems
  • Lack of motivation and energy
  • Slowed movement or speech
  • Irritability
  • Loss of interest in socializing or hobbies
  • Neglecting personal care

Now, let’s look at some causes of depression in the elderly.

  • Health problems –Illness and disability; chronic, severe pain; cognitive decline; damage to body image from surgery or disease.
  • Loneliness and isolation –living alone; dwindling social circles due to deaths or relocation; decreased mobility from illness or loss of driving privileges.
  • Reduced sense of purpose – feelings of purposelessness or loss of identity due to retirement or physical limitations on activities.
  • Fears – Fear of death or dying; anxiety about financial issues or health problems
  • Recent bereavements –Death of friends, family members, and pets; the loss of a spouse or partner

While depression certainly can be deadly, it isn’t unbeatable. There are lots of ways that one can help to combat depression, such as exercising, connecting with others, getting enough sleep, etc. If you or someone you love is struggling with depression, it’s important to remember that help is available and all you have to do is reach out. For example, talk to a loved one or trusted friend, and definitely make sure to speak with your doctor about how you’ve been feeling lately. The earlier you recognize the symptoms and signs of depression, the earlier and quicker you’ll be able to deal with the issue and get it under control as best as possible.