It’s usually easy to identify when an elderly loved one is lonely or sad.
But the truth is, elderly depression is much more common than most people think.
Seniors and older adults deal with loneliness and depression much differently than young adults.
While young people can easily identify the symptoms of depression and speak out, seniors may not understand that what they’re experiencing is actually clinical depression.
As a result, many older adults remain undiagnosed and untreated. It’s important to understand how the risk factors and symptoms of depression in the elderly differ than that of younger folks.
By watching out for the signs, you or your loved one can seek proper treatment and develop healthy coping skills.
What Causes Elderly Depression?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), seniors have an increased risk for developing clinical depression due to a variety of factors.
Unfortunately, many doctors and family members may wrongfully identify a loved one’s symptoms as a normal part of the aging process. However, depression is not a normal or inevitable part of aging.
The good news is, depression is a medical condition that is treatable and preventable by identifying the risk factors and seeking comprehensive treatment.
Many factors can increase an elderly person’s risk of developing depression including:
- Physical Disabilities.
- Chronic Medical Conditions: 80% of older adults suffer from a chronic medical condition such as cancer, diabetes, or heart disease.
- Being a woman.
- Living alone with lack of a support system.
- Substance abuse.
- Certain medications.
- Loss of a loved one and stressful life events.
- Fear of death.
- Damage to body image.
- High blood pressure.
- Chronic pain.
- Dementia and Alzheimer’s: up to 40% of people with Alzheimer’s also suffer from depression.
Prevalence of Elderly Depression
The CDC estimates that between 1% and 5% of seniors are depressed. However, this number increases to nearly 14% for seniors requiring home health care and nearly 12% for hospital patients.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, adults 85 and older have the second highest suicide rate in the United States.
Unfortunately, older adults may be more reluctant to discuss their feelings and emotions than younger adults. Family members and loved ones may write off a senior’s complaints, anger, or sadness as a normal part of growing old.
As a result, the CDC’s estimates could rank much lower than actual figures, but there isn’t really any way to tell for sure.
It’s important to always be respectful of a senior loved one’s concerns and feelings.
Symptoms and Signs of Elderly Depression
Due to stereotypes and social stigma, seniors may not realize that their symptoms are, in fact, clinical depression. Meanwhile, doctors may misidentify the illness.
It’s important to stay educated on the symptoms and signs of elderly depression so you can take a proactive approach to your family’s mental health.
- Chronic pessimism and hopelessness.
- Feelings of guilt and worthlessness.
- Irritability and restlessness.
- Insomnia, sleep disturbances, and oversleeping
- Eating issues including both over eating and appetite loss.
- Persistent aches, pains, and digestive problems with no treatable or identifiable cause.
- Fatigue and low energy.
- Losing interests in activities and withdrawing from social situations.
- Trouble concentrating, focusing, and making decisions.
- Thoughts of suicide.
How to Reduce and Treat Loneliness and Depression in the Elderly
The good news is, depression in the elderly is absolutely treatable with the right medications, lifestyle changes, or coping tools.
It’s important to develop a comprehensive treatment program that addresses a person’s risk factors and causes of depression. In many cases, medication alone is not enough without addressing environmental conditions and lifestyle.
Many medications for hormones, heart conditions, anxiety, and inflammation can trigger increased depression symptoms. Talk with your doctor to evaluate your medication regimen and look for alternatives.
Seniors may also take antidepressant medications to treat their condition. However, many of these drugs can cause dizziness, loss of balance, and interactions with other medications so it’s important to proceed with caution.
Support Groups and Therapy
Although older adults may be reluctant to discuss their feelings and emotions with strangers, support groups and therapy can be extremely beneficial for treating depression in the elderly.
Many groups cater to seniors and individuals with specific concerns such as death, bereavement, and chronic health conditions.
Loneliness and depression go hand-in-hand. Social activity is crucial for developing and maintaining feelings of self-worth and belonging.
Plan frequent outings and fun activities with older loved ones and family members. Check on neighbors and build important support systems with older people who seem isolated.
Although retirement can be a fun and exciting time for many people, a lack of purpose can directly contribute to elderly depression.
Many seniors on fixed incomes may not have the resources to travel and “live it up” like others. Help your loved ones establish healthy and fulfilling hobbies to give their lives a sense of purpose. Volunteering is always a great option.
Healthy blood flow to the brain is essential for warding off depression. Unfortunately, many seniors have high blood pressure and other conditions that can hinder blood flow.
Physical activity is a great way to increase blood flow and oxygen to the brain as well as triggering “feel good” chemicals like endorphins. Try low impact muscle strengthening activities and yoga or tai chi to improve balance. Try something fun.
Diet and Nutrition
Diet and nutrition also plays a special role in mental health. As people age, their bodies don’t absorb nutrients quite as well as they used to. Omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin D, and B vitamins are especially important for supporting blood flow to the brain and mental health.
The Victorian Assisted Living and Retirement Community
The Victorian is an assisted living and retirement community that makes living independently, while at the same time feeling safe and secure, a reality. We strive to provide the best quality of life for all residents including those suffering from loneliness and depression.
We offer a comprehensive activity program that includes both physical and social activities to encourage emotional wellbeing. Our staff is trained to assist those with depression. If you or a loved one are considering assisted living, contact The Victorian today to learn more about our services or tour our community.