Have you lost interest in the activities you used to enjoy? Do you struggle with feelings of helplessness and hopelessness? Are you finding it harder and harder to get through the day? If so, you’re not alone. Depression can happen to any of us as we age, regardless of our background or achievements. And the symptoms of elderly depression can affect every aspect of your life, impacting your energy, appetite, sleep, and interest in work, hobbies, and relationships.
Unfortunately, all too many depressed older adults fail to recognize the symptoms of depression, or don’t take the steps to get the help they need. There are many reasons why elderly depression is so often overlooked:
- may assume you have good reason to be down or that depression is just part of aging.
- You may be isolated—which in itself can lead to depression—with few around to notice your distress.
- Also you may not realize that your physical complaints are signs of depression.
- You may be reluctant to talk about your feelings or ask for help.
It’s important to realize that depression isn’t an inevitable part of getting older—nor is it a sign of weakness or a character flaw. It can happen to anyone, at any age, no matter your background or your previous accomplishments in life. While life’s changes as you age—such as retirement, the death of loved ones, declining health—can sometimes trigger depression, they don’t have to keep you down. No matter what challenges you face as you age, there are steps you can take to feel happy and hopeful once again and enjoy your golden years.
Signs and symptoms
Recognizing depression in the elderly starts with knowing the signs and symptoms. Depression red flags include:
- Sadness or feelings of despair
- Unexplained or aggravated 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 worthlessness or self-loathing)
- Slowed movement or speech
- Increased use of alcohol or other drugs
- Fixation on death; thoughts of suicide
- Memory problems
- Neglecting personal care (skipping meals, forgetting med, neglecting personal hygiene)
Depressed older people may not feel “sad”
While depression and sadness might seem to go hand and hand, many depressed seniors claim not to feel sad at all. They may complain, instead, of low motivation, a lack of energy, or physical problems. In fact, physical complaints, such as arthritis pain or worsening headaches, are often the predominant symptom of depression in the elderly.
Causes of depression in older people
As we grow older, we often face significant life changes that can increase the risk for depression. These can include:
Health problems. Illness and disability, chronic or severe pain, cognitive decline, damage to your body image due to surgery or sickness can all be contributors to depression.
Loneliness and isolation. Factors such as living alone, a dwindling social circle due to deaths or relocation, decreased mobility due to illness or a loss of driving privileges can trigger depression.
Reduced sense of purpose. Retirement can bring with it a loss of identity, status, self-confidence, and financial security and increase the risk of depression. Physical limitations on activities you used to enjoy can also impact your sense of purpose.
Fears. These include a fear of death or dying as well as anxiety over financial problems or health issues.
Recent bereavements. The death of friends, family members, and pets, or the loss of a spouse or partner are common causes of depression in older adults.
Medical conditions that can cause elderly depression
It’s important to be aware that medical problems can cause depression in older adults and the elderly, either directly or as a psychological reaction to the illness. Any chronic medical condition, particularly if it is painful, disabling, or life-threatening, can lead to depression or make your depression symptoms worse.
- Parkinson’s disease
- Heart disease
- Thyroid disorders
- Vitamin B12 deficiency
- Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
- Multiple sclerosis (MS)
Elderly depression as a side effect of medication
Symptoms of depression can also occur as a side effect of many commonly prescribed drugs. You’re particularly at risk if you’re taking multiple medications. While the mood-related side effects of prescription medication can affect anyone, older adults are more sensitive because, as we age, our bodies become less efficient at metabolizing and processing drugs.
If you feel depressed after starting a new medication, talk to your doctor. You may be able to lower your dose or switch to another medication that doesn’t impact your mood.
Medications that can cause or worsen depression include:
- Blood pressure medication (e.g. clonidine)
- Beta-blockers (e.g. Lopressor, Inderal)
- High-cholesterol drugs (e.g. Lipitor, Mevacor, Zocor)
- Tranquilizers (e.g. Valium, Xanax, Halcion)
- Calcium-channel blockers
- Medication for Parkinson’s disease
- Sleeping pills
- Ulcer medication (e.g. Zantac, Tagamet)
- Heart drugs containing reserpine
- Steroids (e.g. cortisone and prednisone)
- Painkillers and arthritis drugs
- Estrogens (e.g. Premarin, Prempro)
- Anticholinergic drugs used to treat GI disorders
Self tips on how to over come early Depression
It’s a myth to think that after a certain age older adults can’t learn new skills, try new activities, or make fresh lifestyle changes. The truth is that the human brain never stops changing, so as an older adult, you’re just as capable as a young person of learning new things and adapting to new ideas that can help you recover from depression.
Overcoming depression involves finding new things you enjoy, learning to adapt to change, staying physically and socially active, and feeling connected to your community and loved ones.
Of course, when you’re depressed, taking action and putting self-help steps into action can be hard. Sometimes, just thinking about the things you should do to feel better can seem overwhelming. But small steps can make a big difference to how you feel. Taking a short walk, for example, is something you can do right now—and it can boost your mood for the next two hours. By taking small steps day by day, your depression symptoms will ease and you’ll find yourself feeling more energetic and hopeful again.