It may appear to some that seniors have a lot to be happy about. They no longer have to work, they don’t have to run kids around, they can watch whatever they want on TV, and a lot of other things that we mid-lifers look forward to. But seniors actually experience a lot of loneliness and pain that the rest of us don’t always see, and it’s important to watch for signs that they’re becoming depressed before it causes deeper issues.
“Depression is very disabling,” Eric Lenze, MD, a Washington University geriatric psychiatrist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital said in an article posted by Washington University School of Medicine— “And in older patients, it can even cause problems with memory and attention and can greatly increase the disability that accompanies medical problems such as heart disease.”
According to a CDC Survey conducted in 2011, individuals aged 65 to 74 years –and 75 years and older– reported feeling sadness at least some of the time (9.3% for 65 to 74 years, and 9.0% for 75 years and older), and with valid reasons. Many older adults experience chronic pain, loss of a spouse or close friends, physical disability, loss of independence, and other conditions that happen as they age. Add to that the isolation that seniors have felt throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s easy to understand why they’re sad. We may not be able to see all the symptoms of depression that The American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry says to watch for in our loved ones, such as feelings of helplessness, but some of the signs are red flags that caretakers should take action:
- Frequent tearfulness
- Changes in weight or appetite
- Pacing or fidgeting
- Trouble falling asleep or staying awake
- Loss of interest in socializing
- Loss of interest in favorite activities
- Difficulty concentrating
- Trouble remembering things
Risk factors of depression in seniors
The National Institute of Mental Health states that certain older adults are at higher risk of becoming depressed if they:
- Are female
- Have a chronic illness such as cancer, heart disease, or diabetes
- Have a disability
- Are socially isolated
- Have a family history of depression
- Suffer from a brain disease
- Have lost a spouse, gone through a divorce, or recently taken care of someone with a chronic illness
How is depression treated in older adults?
If you notice signs of depression in an elderly loved one, contact a licensed counselor who specializes in senior mental wellness. Talk therapy can establish a feeling of support and understanding when provided by someone who can provide tools to cope with aging issues.
A counselor can also recommend lifestyle changes such as daily exercise, healthy eating habits, and ways that friends and family can create a support system. If your loved one is unable to physically get to a counselor’s office, consider helping them seek help with an online mental health service.
In some cases, antidepressants can relieve the symptoms of depression. If a counselor thinks your loved one may benefit from medication, he or she will refer you to a psychiatrist who can help.