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The Impact of Depression on the Elderly

Elderly depression is often dismissed as a normal part of aging — which is not the case.

While depression in those 65 and older is common, especially in those with other medical conditions, it is not and should not be normal.

Depression in elderly adults can significantly reduce quality of life and lead to other illnesses.

Let’s explore the signs of depression in elderly adults so family members can properly identify symptoms and find the right support for their loved ones.

What are the symptoms of depression in the elderly?

Depression generally affects older adults differently than younger adults.

That’s why recognizing the symptoms might be confusing if you don’t know what to look for.

For example, depression in older adults often is tied to other illnesses, and the symptoms may not be as obvious as just feeling sad.

Instead, seniors may feel fatigue, physical pain, or low motivation.

They may also have the following symptoms:

  • Unexplained aches and pains
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Irritability
  • Confusion
  • Memory issues
  • Feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness
  • Loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Slowed speech or movement
  • Neglecting personal care

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 1% to 5% of older adults have depression. 

However, this number increases to 13.5% for those requiring home healthcare, and 11.5% for older hospitalized adults.

What are the causes of depression in older adults?

There are several contributing factors that increase the risk of depression as we age.

Let’s take a look at the most common factors.

Recent Loss

The death of family, friends, a spouse, or beloved pet can cause symptoms of depression in older adults.

After a significant loss, it can be easy to dismiss symptoms of clinical depression as lingering grief. 

While this may be the case, a mental health professional will be able to distinguish the cause and help your loved one move through the loss.

Loss of Identity or Status

When an older adult retires, they may feel a reduced sense of purpose or self-worth.

This can affect their confidence and even cause significant stress due to financial changes.

As we age, our physical abilities change as well. This can contribute to a lack of interest in once-beloved activities and a loss of identity.

Loneliness and Social Isolation

Research has shown that nearly one-fourth of adults 65 and older are considered socially isolated.

Older adults are more likely to experience loneliness and isolation due to living alone, living with chronic illness, or losing loved ones.

Senior loneliness is associated with higher rates of depression, anxiety, and illness.

Health Problems

Chronic illnesses, severe pain, cognitive decline, and other health issues can trigger or worsen symptoms of depression.

The following medical conditions can lead to depression in elderly adults, either directly or indirectly:

  • Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Lupus
  • Stroke
  • Heart disease
  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Thyroid disorders
  • Vitamin deficiencies
  • Medication side effects

The fear of dying or worsening health issues also can trigger depression in seniors.

Because there are so many potential causes for depression and varying treatments for those causes, taking your loved one to the doctor as soon as you notice symptoms is essential.

A medical professional can properly diagnose depression and work to relieve the underlying causes and treat both the causes and the depression itself. 

With proper treatment, your loved one can find needed relief to improve symptoms and quality of life.

What are the differences between depression and dementia?

Some symptoms of depression in elderly adults, including mental decline, confusion, and memory issues, are similar to dementia symptoms.

A doctor will be able to determine the cause of these symptoms and whether they are due to cognitive decline, depression, an underlying health issue, or even a medication side effect.

Certain medications for blood pressure, cholesterol, sleep issues, heart issues, and others can affect mood or worsen symptoms of depression.

Additionally, a vitamin B-12 deficiency can create memory issues or depression symptoms.

How to support a senior loved one’s mental health

Depression can happen to any person at any age, but the symptoms can significantly impact quality of life.

The good news is, depression is treatable. 

But it may take the support of friends and family in order to encourage a senior loved one to seek help.

Your loved one may not be interested in getting help, but you can start by reaching out to them often, staying connected, scheduling activities, or preparing meals for them.

How will a doctor diagnose and treat depression?

A doctor will likely begin by ruling out other causes for your loved one’s symptoms of depression, including a physical exam, lab tests, and evaluating their medical history.

If a doctor is unable to find a physical cause for the symptoms, they may refer your loved one to a mental health professional.

Common treatments for depression include:

  • Therapy or counseling
  • Support groups
  • Medication to balance hormones affecting mood

If you’re concerned about your loved one’s mental health and wellbeing but are unable to provide the level of support they need, you may want to consider an assisted living community.

The right community will offer activities, social opportunities, and health and wellness services that can improve your loved one’s happiness and quality of life.

How The Kensington Sierra Madre supports our residents’ mental health

The Kensington Sierra Madre is an assisted living and memory care community that is dedicated to the health and wellbeing of our residents.

We serve with a simple yet powerful Promise: to love and care for your family as we do our own.

We understand the unique mental health struggles of our residents, and work to address them by offering activities filled with meaning and purpose.

In a beautiful community surrounded by flowers and plants, residents are free to enjoy a packed calendar of events and are introduced to a healthier way of life.

Our dedicated, loving team goes beyond traditional assisted living to offer a full spectrum of clinical support and true “aging in place.”

We believe your loved one will find their home at The Kensington.

 Reach out to our team today to learn more about our activities and services that can help your loved one thrive with new purpose.

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