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Depression in Older Adults

When we think of depression, we may envision teens or adults struggling with sadness or having a lack of motivation. However, depression is a mental illness that can impact individuals of any age, including seniors. Depression is highly prevalent yet vastly underreported and undertreated in adults aged 65 and older. Depression is not something that should be pushed to the side or ignored. It can have serious consequences for people of all ages, including older adults.

Symptoms of Depression in Older Adults

The symptoms of depression in older adults may be different than those in younger populations. Due to this reason, depression in seniors can often be hard to identify.  The most common signs of depression include sustained feelings of sadness, emptiness, and a loss of interest in pleasurable activities. For older adults, the signs can be more physical in nature and include:

  • Disrupted sleep
  • Changes in appetite and weight
  • Unexplained aches and pains
  • Lack of energy
  • Slowed movements or speech

Depression in older adults is often dismissed as a natural part of aging or confused with dementia or other age-related conditions.  

The National Council on Aging (NCOA) reports that depression and other behavioral health issues are not typical aspects of aging and can be addressed. However, 66% of older adults aren’t accessing necessary care despite effective interventions being available.

The stigma surrounding mental illness and a generational tendency to be more reserved about emotional struggles can worsen the problem. Depressed seniors may avoid voicing their concerns or downplay their symptoms, leaving the condition unaddressed. 

Risk Factors for Depression

While the golden years are supposed to be a time of relaxation and celebration after decades of hard work, the reality is that older adults face unique challenges that can contribute to depression. Several life changes and stressors can trigger or contribute to depression in older adults. These may include the death of a spouse, social isolation, chronic health issues, loss of mobility and independence, financial concerns, and the difficulty adjusting to major life transitions like retirement.  

Untreated depression has severe consequences that extend far beyond emotional suffering. It can:

  • Worsen physical health problems
  • Accelerate cognitive decline
  • Increase disability

Untreated depression can also fuel substance abuse issues as older adults may attempt to self-medicate to mask the symptoms. The National Institute of Health reports that approximately one million older adults over age 65 are living with a substance use disorder. 

Older adults experiencing depression may also grapple with suicidal thoughts, a concerning aspect of mental health. Suicidal ideation requires urgent attention and specialized care. 

Treating Depression in Older Adults

Fortunately, depression in older adults is highly treatable when properly diagnosed. The first step is initiating an open and honest discussion. Staying educated and being able to recognize the common and not-so-common signs and symptoms of depression is crucial for families, caregivers, and health professionals who interact with the aging population. 

Upon diagnosis, a multifaceted treatment approach is often most effective for treating depression in older adults and may consist of a combination of the following:

  • Psychotherapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Antidepressant medications like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
  • Lifestyle changes such as getting regular exercise, engaging socially, and incorporating mind-body practices like meditation 

In addition, it is vital to address any underlying medical issues that could be causing depression. Other aspects that can improve depression in older adults include promoting their independence and fostering a strong support system. Feeling alone and having nowhere to turn can only make their depression worse. Knowing they have someone to count on and talk to can often make a significant difference.

If your aging loved one is struggling with depression, they are not alone. Help is available at Creekside Behavioral Health. Located in Kingsport, Tennessee, we offer programs and services designed for older adults including acute psychiatric inpatient care with medication management, individual therapy, group therapy, and family therapy. To learn more about how we can help your loved one, please contact us today.

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