Depression in Older Adults

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Identifying Depression in Older Adults by Colleen Mock

Depression in the older adult population is common but many of the symptoms of depression change as we age. For older adults, many of the more telling signs of depression are somatic in nature. Somatic symptoms of depression refer to symptoms that are experienced through physical manifestations in the body. Some of the most reported somatic symptoms of depression in the elderly include an increase in bodily pains, an increase in arthritis symptoms, and experiencing an increase in migraines and headaches. If no physical explanation for the increase in pain symptoms can be found, there is a good chance that depression may be the culprit.

Some risk factors that can make older adults more prone to depression include: isolation, loss of a loved one, loss of independence/privacy, loss of mobility, an increase in health problems, feeling a reduced sense of purpose, fear of death and dying, fearing financial expenses, having a chronic illness, taking multiple medications, having a history of depression, and an inability to do previously enjoyed activities.

Some of the symptoms of depression likely to be experienced by older adults include, but are not limited to:

  • Increased aches & pains
  • Loss of interest
  • Loss of appetite (feeling like an appetite hasn’t been worked up from “being lazy”)
  • Sensation of hopelessness/helplessness
  • Decreased motivation & energy
  • Sleep difficulties such as early morning awakenings
  • Loss of self-worth (unique to the elderly: feeling like a burden due to aging)
  • Delayed speech/movement
  • Increase in alcohol and drug use
  • Obsession with death
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Symptoms of suicide such as giving away prized possessions
  • Difficulty concentrating/memory issues
  • Overlooking/neglecting personal care

Older adults are more likely to experience an increase in depression symptoms in the winter and right after major holidays or family events. Depression is not a part of normal aging and can easily be treated by a mental health professional.

COVID-19 has most likely exacerbated depression in the elderly, particularly those who live in facility settings. Prolonged isolation and the inability to engage in activities and see their loved ones for months puts older adults at a heightened risk of depression. Reaching out to the older adults in your life during this time may make all the difference in the world.