Recognizing Depression in Older People
This past year brought many challenges and obstacles that tested people’s strength and resiliency. The pandemic forced us to cope with situations we may never have imagined, and a lot of us struggled with our mental health as a result. Many people found themselves dealing with mental health problems for the first time.
May is National Mental Health Month, and now, more than ever, it’s important to combat the stigma about mental health concerns. The National Institutes of Health provides this information about recognizing depression in older people.
Depression is not a normal part of aging
Depression is common among older adults, but it is not a normal part of aging. In fact, studies show that most older adults feel satisfied with their lives, despite having more illnesses or physical problems. However, important life changes that happen as we get older may cause feelings of uneasiness, stress, and sadness.
The impact of the pandemic is an obvious cause. And, of course, the death of a loved one, moving from work into retirement, or dealing with a serious illness can leave people feeling sad or anxious. Many older adults can regain their emotional balance in time, but others do not and may develop depression.
Recognizing symptoms of depression in older adults
Depression in older adults may be difficult to recognize because they may show different symptoms than younger people. For some older adults with depression, sadness is not their main symptom. They may appear to feel tired, have trouble sleeping, or seem grumpy and irritable. Confusion or attention problems caused by depression can sometimes look like Alzheimer’s disease or other brain disorders.
Older adults also may have more medical conditions, such as heart disease, stroke, or cancer, which may cause depressive symptoms. Or they may be taking medications with side effects that contribute to depression.
Common symptoms of depression
There are many symptoms associated with depression, and some will vary depending on the individual. However, some of the most common symptoms are listed below. If you have several of these symptoms for more than two weeks, you may have depression.
- Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood
- Feelings of hopelessness, guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
- Irritability, restlessness, or having trouble sitting still
- Loss of interest in once pleasurable activities, including sex
- Decreased energy or fatigue
- Moving or talking more slowly
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions
- Difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
- Eating more or less than usual, usually with unplanned weight gain or loss
- Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts
- Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause and/or that do not ease with treatment
- Frequent crying
Get immediate help
If you are thinking about harming yourself, tell someone who can help immediately.
- Do not isolate yourself.
- Call your doctor.
- Call 911 or go to a hospital emergency room to get immediate help, or ask a friend or family member to help you.
Call the toll-free, 24-hour National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) or 1-800-799-4TTY (1-800-799-4889).
Free online screening
A free mental health screening is available at www.MHAscreening.org. It’s a quick, confidential way for anyone to assess their mental health and begin finding hope and healing.