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Signs and Symptoms of Depression in the Elderly

Mental health problems like depression often go overlooked in seniors. Sometimes, a change in mood or behavior is attributed to aging or cognitive decline instead of depression. However, seniors can experience clinical depression just like people of any other age.

Depression and other mental health issues can affect anyone regardless of age, gender, culture, or prior mental health history. Treating the problem early can prevent it from taking a toll on your quality of life, so being knowledgeable about depression and other conditions is incredibly helpful.

The Effects of Geriatric Depression

At any age, depression can have a severely negative effect on your life. Depression prevents you from engaging in your usual activities and can hurt your relationships with friends, family, and yourself. Here are some of the most serious effects of depression in seniors:

  • Cognitive decline
  • Exacerbation of physical health symptoms
  • Substance abuse
  • Social isolation
  • Suicidal thoughts

Your later years should be all about enjoying retirement and spending quality time with loved one. Depression can prevent seniors from fully experiencing life. Fortunately, depression in seniors is very treatable with assistance from professionals.

Signs and Symptoms of Depression in Seniors

Some indicators of depression in seniors can be observed by friends and family. Other symptoms are internal experiences that only the person struggling is aware of. In some cases, depression is very noticeable, and the individual’s loved ones can intervene right away. In other cases, seniors with depression are very private and stoic. The depression may be taking a serious toll on their life, but friends and family have no idea.

It’s important to understand the signs of depression for seniors. When you’re familiar with what depression looks like, you can more easily identify the condition in yourself or a loved one. The following are the most common signs of depression in seniors:

Change in Mood

A low mood is one of the primary symptoms of depression in seniors. Depression can cause feelings of hopelessness, sadness, or emptiness. For some seniors, depression may cause anger, anxiety, or irritability.

It’s normal for your mood to fluctuate from day to day, and feeling sad occasionally isn’t a cause for concern. A low mood that lasts for longer than two weeks may be a sign of depression, though. Low mood is also concerning when there is no specific cause for the feelings. Events like loss or a serious health diagnosis can affect your mood, but when you feel sad or hopeless for no reason, it may be a mental health issue.

Feelings of Guilt

Guilt is another common symptom of depression in seniors. Not all seniors with depression experience this, but many have a negative inner voice that is always criticizing them. Seniors may feel excessively guilty about asking for help or making small mistakes. They may believe that their friends or family don’t care about them even if they have no reason to believe that this is the case.

Guilt can be a particularly harmful symptom of depression because it prevents seniors from reaching out for help. If they blame themselves for their symptoms or believe that they don’t deserve support, they may struggle for a long time before receiving the treatment they need.

Social Isolation

It’s very common for seniors with depression to withdraw from family, friends, and their community. They may spend more time at home and avoid interacting with others even if they’re usually very social.

Depression can cause social isolation in seniors for a few reasons. Feelings of guilt may lead the individual to believe that their loved ones don’t want to see them, so they avoid contact. A loss of energy and motivation is the other main reason for isolation. Seniors may want to reach out to friends or family, but they may not have the mental or physical energy to follow through.

Withdrawal From Usual Activities

Seniors with depression may experience a loss of interest in their hobbies. The things that used to bring purpose and value to life may no longer seem appealing. Sometimes, this happens because of a loss of energy. Other times, chronic feelings of emptiness or hopelessness make it less enjoyable to participate in activities.

Depression can also make it difficult to complete your activities of daily living. Seniors may struggle to keep up with daily hygiene, chores, paying bills, or other tasks. It may appear that this is happening because of cognitive decline or mobility limitations. However, in some cases, the reason is depression or other mental health concerns.

Change in Sleeping Habits

Sleeping far less or far more than normal is very common in people with depression, but it’s a little-known symptom. A change in sleeping habits sometimes happens due to chronic illness, medication side effects, or other physical health factors. If there are no obvious explanations, though, the person may be struggling with depression.

Mental health problems can affect your sleeping habits in a number of different ways. Some people with depression sleep far more than usual. They may sleep for a long time at night and take naps throughout the day. For others, depression causes insomnia. The affected individual may have a hard time falling asleep or staying asleep, and their quality of sleep may be very poor.

Change in Appetite or Weight

Like sleeping problems, a change in appetite is a common but often-overlooked sign of depression. Some people use overeating as a coping mechanism for overwhelming feelings of guilt, sadness, or anxiety. Others lose their appetite entirely because they find no enjoyment in food or don’t have the energy to cook meals.

If you or your loved one has experienced a sudden and drastic change in appetite or weight, it could be a sign of a mental health problem. When it comes to physical health symptoms, it’s always important to consult with a general practitioner. However, if they rule out any other possible causes for weight loss or gain, it may be time to evaluate your mental health.

Depression can look different for everyone. Not everyone will experience every sign, and symptoms can vary in duration and in severity. If you think that you or a loved one may be suffering from depression, the best thing you can do is connect with a mental health professional. You don’t have to wait until you meet certain criteria or have been struggling for a specific amount of time. Everyone deserves mental health treatment when they’re feeling unwell, and it’s important to reach out as early as possible.

Blue Moon Senior Counseling offers therapy for older adults. Our counselors specialize in senior mental health and work with clients who are facing depression, anxiety, grief, and a number of other challenges. Contact us today to learn more about our therapy services.

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