How is Depression in the Elderly Different and How Can You Help?

Depression is a prevalent disease among all ages of people but is particularly common in older populations. Previously, depression in the elderly was confused with other illnesses and often overlooked compared to depression in younger populations.

Throughout your lifetime you go through many changes and significant life events. It’s okay to feel grief and sadness during those times. However, the clinical depression definition is when those feelings of emptiness and despair remain constant.

Fortunately, researchers have done more extensive studying on the effects of depression in older adults, and how to treat it effectively.

How Does Depression in the Elderly Differ from Depression in Younger Adults?

Overall, the key signs and symptoms of depression are similar between the elderly and younger adults, but researchers have found a couple of noticeable differences.

One interesting difference is that elderly adults with depression don’t usually claim to feel sad like younger people do. However, they do complain of other physical symptoms of depression.

A study was done by the NCBI on depression among young and elderly patients. They found that about two-thirds of elderly patients suffered from at least two or more physical disorders. On the other hand, the majority of young patients were physically healthier.  

The study also showed that out of all the patients that received treatment for depression, the elderly patients had a much greater chance of recovering than the younger patients getting the same treatment.

Signs and Symptoms of Depression in the Elderly

It’s important to be aware of the different signs and symptoms of elderly depression because the best way to treat depression is by recognizing it. Some of the signs and symptoms are:

  • Feelings of despair or sadness
  • Loss of interest in social activities’
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Chest Pain
  • Feeling hopeless or helpless
  • Difficulty sleeping or insomnia
  • Aching joints and muscles
  • Lack of energy or motivation
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Irritability
  • Neglecting personal care

How is Insomnia Related to Depression in the Elderly?

Since depression can cause difficulty sleeping, it may lead to insomnia or vice versa. Research from the American Psychological Association revealed that “Insomnia often begins with anxiety due to stressful life events whereas persistent insomnia may be a risk factor for the development of depression.”

The most common insomnia pattern that occurs in seniors is late, or advanced sleep phase. This is when you fall asleep easily and sleep without disturbance, but end up waking very early and find it hard to return to sleep.

Sleep deprivation gets written off as a typical sign of aging and gets ignored, but if depression goes untreated, it can lead to more chronic insomnia and a worse case of depression.

Doctors usually treat insomnia with natural sleep medicine. Although if that doesn’t work, they may prescribe other medications or psychotherapy.

What Can Cause Depression in the Elderly?

A couple of different things can cause senior depression such as certain medical conditions, side effects of a medication, a family history of depression or a traumatic life event occurring.

Some medical conditions that could cause depression:

  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
  • Thyroid disorders

Medications that have a side effect of depression:

  • Blood pressure medication
  • High-cholesterol drugs
  • Sleeping pills
  • Ulcer medications
  • Steroids or estrogens
  • Medication for Parkinson’s disease

What are the Risk Factors for Depression in the Elderly?

Depression is not a normal part of aging, but there are some risk factors that you should pay attention to.

Medical Conditions

Serious medical conditions such as diabetes, thyroid disease, chronic pain, stroke and heart failure are all associated with high risks of depression.

People requiring medical care

Seniors needing hospitalization or home health care are at a higher risk.


An article by the NY Times explained that smoking and depression are closely associated. People who quit smoking face a 25% higher chance of becoming depressed and they are at an increased risk for at least six months.

Being Divorced or Widowed

Suicide is one of the third leading cause of death in the elderly, and single, divorced or widowed seniors account for most of these suicides.

What Treatments Are Available for Depression in the Elderly?

The good news is that once depression is recognized, there are several different ways to treat it. There are things you can do at home for treatment as well as getting professional help.

Stay Socially Engaged

Stay social and nurture your relationships with loved ones. This is a good opportunity to invite family over to dinner, go volunteer or meet new people at a community center.

Keep Yourself Healthy

Keep a healthy diet and make sure you’re giving your body all the vitamins and minerals that it needs. In addition to a healthy diet, try to get regular physical activity and find new ways to keep yourself active.

Maintain Quality Sleep

Make an effort to get at least 7-8 hours of sleep every night. To help you sleep better, avoid caffeine or alcohol before bedtime. Or, try using melatonin as a more natural way to help you fall asleep.

Try Using Alternative Medicine

Sometimes the use natural supplements or herbs can treat mild symptoms of depression. It is best to consult a doctor before trying any natural remedy as they can interfere with some medications.

St. John’s Wort – This herbal supplement has been known to treat depression.

SAMe – This supplement has a synthetic chemical that is produced naturally in your body.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids – These natural fats have shown to help people suffering from depression and bipolar disorder.

Saffron – This herbal supplement treats certain symptoms of depression.

Seek Therapy

There two types of therapy you can do such as group counseling or one on one therapy. Both of these ways are effective in treating the cause of depression.

Use Antidepressants

Sometimes your brain has a hard time creating chemicals such as dopamine that make you happy. When that happens, your doctor may prescribe antidepressant medications to treat your depression.

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