About Depression in Older Adults

Symptoms and treatments to beat something more than just "the blues"

According to the American Psychological Association, depression is one of the most prevalent mental disorders among the elderly, while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that up to 13.5 percent of older adults experience depression. If you or a loved one is feeling depressed, it's important to recognize the common symptoms of depression, its risks, and the options for treatment.

Symptoms of depression in older adults

Unfortunately, depression in older adults often goes untreated because people assume that feeling "down" is a normal part of aging. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the CDC, the symptoms of depression in older adults may include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of energy
  • Confusion
  • Withdrawal from social situations
  • Vague and persistent complaints of pain
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Irritability
  • Weight loss
  • Delusions or hallucinations
  • Abnormally demanding behavior
  • Abnormally slow movements
  • Loss of interest in pleasurable activities
  • Feelings of worthlessness, guilt, hopelessness and/or helplessness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Thoughts of suicide

Depression may coincide with other health problems

In many cases, depression in older adults occurs simultaneously with other serious conditions like diabetes, cancer, Parkinson's disease, stroke and heart disease. Often, depression can delay recovery from these illnesses. It's important to understand that depression should be treated, and is not just a normal accompaniment to physical illness.

Depression in older adults and the risk of suicide

Statistics from the National Institutes of Health state that older adults account for a disproportionately high percentage of suicide deaths. Although people 65 and older make up about 12 percent of the U.S. population, they accounted for 16 percent of suicides in 2004.

Treating depression through therapy

Studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association have shown certain kinds of psychotherapy to be effective in treating depression in older adults. Psychotherapy involves meeting with a trained health professional to work through feelings of depression and suicidal thoughts. The course of treatment varies according to the individual, but psychotherapy typically focuses on identifying and minimizing the factors that cause or exacerbate depression, as well as teaching important coping techniques.

Medicating depression in older adults

Antidepressant medications directly affect neurotransmitters in the brain, and can often help alleviate depression. Since people interact differently with antidepressants, your doctor may have you try several types before finding the one that works best for you. While research in depression is ongoing, some studies have shown that medication combined with therapy is the most effective treatment for depression.

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