According to Mental Health America, there are more than 2 million American seniors suffering from depression. Recognizing depression in your senior loved one starts with knowing the signs and symptoms. Warning signs of depression include:
Sadness or feelings of despair
Unexplained aches and pains
Loss of interest in socializing or hobbies
Weight loss or loss of appetite
Feelings of hopelessness or helplessness
Lack of motivation and energy
Sleep disturbances (difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, oversleeping, or daytime sleepiness)
Loss of self-worth (worries about being a burden, feelings of self-loathing)
Slowed movement or speech
Increased use of alcohol or other drugs
Fixation on death; thoughts of suicide
Neglecting personal care (skipping meals, forgetting meds, neglecting personal hygiene)
It is important to note that while depression and sadness are considered interchangeable to many people, many depressed seniors do not report feeling any sadness. Instead, seniors may have low motivation, a lack of energy, or physical symptoms. Physical complaints like joint pain or worsening headaches are actually very common symptoms of depression in seniors.
Is it just grief? The natural process of aging can be accompanied by many losses, and whether it’s a loss of independence, mobility, health, a career, or a loved one, loss is painful. Grieving over these losses is normal and healthy and the consequential feelings of sadness may last for a long time. It can be difficult to tell the difference between depression and grief, however, here are a few differences:
Grief involves a mix of good and bad days. Even when grieving, a senior will still have moments of joy or happiness.
With depression, a senior's negative feelings are constant.
While there isn't a set timeline for grieving, if it doesn’t let up over time, it may be depression.
Causes of depression in seniors:
Some changes that accompany aging can increase an individual's risk of depression. Here are a few changes to consider:
Health problems. Illness, disability, chronic pain, cognitive decline, and damage to body image can all be contributing factors to depression.
Loneliness and isolation. Living alone, losing friends due to deaths or relocation, and losing mobility due to disability or a loss of driving privileges can lead to depression.
Reduced sense of purpose. Older age can bring with it a loss of identity, self-confidence, financial security and physical abilities, which increases the risk of depression.
Fears. Some seniors fear dying or experience anxiety over financial problems or health issues.
Recent bereavements. The death of a loved one or close friend is a common cause of depression in seniors.
Source: “Depression in Older Adults: Signs, Symptoms, Treatment.” HelpGuide.org, 2 June 2020, www.helpguide.org/articles/depression/depression-in-older-adults.htm.