As people age, they encounter a variety of unique challenges. They may not be able to function at the same speed or complexity as they once could, for example. This can leave them battling a sense of gloom and defeat. However, if their feelings of sadness and helplessness persist or worsen, it may be a case of depression in seniors.

Despite the hurdles older people must face, major depression is not a normal part of aging. Seniors are very capable of living long, happy lives with minimal mental health problems. To secure that type of peaceful, content future for your loved ones, it is important to know how and when to help them.

How Common Is Depression in Seniors?

How Common Is Depression in Seniors

Current estimates suggest that roughly five percent of older people live with major depressive disorder. In the case of seniors living in residential care facilities, however, this number can jump up to over 13 percent.

That being said, the true rate of depression in seniors could be much higher. This is because depression in older adults tends to go undiagnosed and untreated. Many people, even some health care workers, write symptoms of depression off as being related to other medical conditions or general aging instead.

In truth, signs of depression in seniors should not go ignored. For the sake of your loved ones and their quality of life during their golden years, it is vital to remain informed of the red flags. To give them the best experience in their later years, stay vigilant and compassionate.

Risk Factors for Depression

Not all elders are at the same risk for depressive disorders. According to the National Institute on Aging, risk factors for depression in seniors include:

  • Grief and loss
  • Declining cognitive and physical function
  • Loneliness
  • Medical conditions (i.e. cancer, stroke, or dementia)
  • Loss of independence
  • Improper sleep
  • Genetics
  • Lack of physical activity and exercise
  • Substance abuse

In addition, if they experienced depression earlier in their life, seniors may be at a higher risk of depression in their older age as well. Support groups someone once had can deteriorate by the time they are an older person, leaving them susceptible to a resurgence of depression symptoms.

5 Signs of Depression in Seniors

Many of the signs of depression shown by elders are similar to those exhibited by younger people. Unfortunately, as people grow older, many of those same symptoms are often falsely blamed on other medical conditions, like dementia.

For this reason, it is incredibly important to talk about these issues in the context of depression. By spreading awareness, it becomes easier to avoid misdiagnosing older adults and ensure they get the mental health care they need. With that in mind, all of the following symptoms can indicate depression in seniors.

1. Isolating from Friends and Family Members

Humans are fundamentally social creatures. It is important to maintain connections and support networks into old age to continue to nurture overall happiness. Without these bonds, many may find themselves facing depression.

As mentioned above, loneliness is a common cause of depression in seniors. Whether it is due to losing a spouse, friends, or family members, it is common for older adults to feel alone. If an older adult has not had company in a while, it may be wise to watch out for additional signs of depression.

Likewise, if a senior has stopped showing interest in interacting or meeting up with friends and family members, it could indicate depression as well. Occasional bouts of grief or preferring to be alone may not be cause for concern, but if they persist for weeks at a time, it may be time to intervene.

2. Physical Aches Unrelated to Aging

The body naturally slows down and deteriorates as people age, but if there is no discernible cause for someone’s pain, it could be because of depression. Common physical ailments associated with depression in seniors include:

  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Digestive problems
  • Lightheadedness

This is something younger people with depression often encounter as well. Mysterious aches and pains can cause alarm, but in some cases, there simply is no physical explanation available. That does not mean someone is fabricating their experiences or just looking for attention.

Instead, it could indicate depression. In seniors, the same stands true. If they experience strange aches that cannot be attributed to parts of aging or other medical conditions, it may be a sign that they are depressed.

3. Loss of Motivation or Energy

Loss of Motivation or Energy

Overt feelings of sadness may not always appear in seniors with depression. Instead, they may demonstrate numbness, apathy, and an overall lack of motivation or energy.

These symptoms are often disregarded as part of the fatigue of aging, but the reality is, people do not have to stop doing things they love because of their age. Even as people get older, they can still enjoy a variety of hobbies and activities. Therefore, when that pleasure vanishes, it may be a sign of a deeper issue.

Depression in seniors can make them appear rooted in place with no interest in changing that. If they seem tired all the time and reject any attempt to get them to participate in their surroundings, they could be living with depression.

4. Slowed Movement, Speech, or Cognition

Another sign of depression in seniors involves their cognitive skills, such as their ability to concentrate. While, to some extent, symptoms like slowed movement and speech can be normal parts of aging, they can also occur as a result of depression.

Part of the reason for this may tie into previous signs of depression. For example, if an older adult stops participating in their hobbies and other activities to keep their mental state sharp, their cognitive functioning can diminish as a result.

Thus, if the senior in your life shows a decline in mental ability, especially if it occurs rapidly or unexpectedly, ensure that the reason for it can be explained by something other than depression. If not, it may be time to find help for them.

5. Recurring Thoughts of Death or Dying

Many older adults find themselves grappling with mortality at some point. As one of the few inevitabilities in life, it is normal to contemplate the end as one ages. However, there are also a few ways in which such thoughts can become excessive or indicative of a deeper mental health problem.

For instance, if thoughts of death become a desire for death, it may be a sign of depression in seniors. Despite only making up 12 percent of the population in the United States, older adults account for roughly 18 percent of suicides every year. Based on data from 2020, that equates to approximately 25 seniors taking their own lives every day.

If you or a loved one is contemplating suicide, please call the National Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988. No matter how old you are, your mental health matters. It is never too late to get the help you need.

Get Help for Depression in Seniors

The Willough at Naples offers Older Adult Behavioral Care to treat depression in seniors. With a medical director who specializes in gerontology (the scientific study of old age) leading our program, we possess a unique advantage over other treatment centers. Our patients can trust that we have the knowledge and experience necessary to provide only the highest levels of care.

At The Willough at Naples, we take a compassionate, multidisciplinary approach to recovery. Our treatment program for depression includes numerous evidence-based treatment options.

Some of our modalities include:

  • Individual talk therapy
  • Physical therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Medication education and management
  • Reintegration into the community

To learn more about how we treat depression in seniors, call us at 800-722-0100 or submit a confidential contact form today. Whether you are an older adult yourself or you have concerns for a loved one, we can help you figure out what to do next. Together, we can ensure the senior in your life recovers from depression and lives out their golden years with joy.