How To Recognize Depression In Seniors And Get Them The Help They Need

elderly woman depressed in kitchen

Feeling blue every now and then is completely natural; however, it is not normal to feel “sad” for extended periods of time. Each year, there are more than 19 million Americans affected by depression, and 2 million of those affected are aged 65 and older. Aging seniors often face a lot of hardships in their lives, such as the loss of their spouse, a change in social circles, loss of abilities, and chronic medical conditions and although it is normal to feel sad when these things happen, clinical depression is not a normal part of getting older. Generally, after a period of feeling sad, most people typically regain their emotional balance and adjust to the changes, but seniors with clinical depression do not get over these feelings. Without proper help, the symptoms of depression may last for weeks or even years. The good news is that with the right treatment, seniors who are depressed can feel better; however, it is essential that symptoms of depression are recognized and treatment sought as soon as possible.

Causes of Depression in the Elderly

There is no one specific cause of depression. For some seniors, it may be one event that brings on their depression, such as the diagnosis of a chronic illness or the loss of a family member. In other seniors, a change in their brain chemistry may affect their mood and lead to depression. There are many different things that may lead your elderly loved one to suffer from depression, but some of the most common causes may include:

  • Health issues and/or co-occurring illnesses, such as Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, cancer, and arthritis
  • Loss of a spouse or family member
  • Decrease in income
  • Loneliness
  • Moving from their home
  • Signs and Symptoms of Depression in the Elderly


Although it may seem as though sadness and depression go hand in hand, it is common for depressed seniors to claim they don’t feel sad. Instead, they may complain of not having any motivation, physical problems, or a lack of energy. In fact, physical complaints, such as headaches or arthritis pain are often a predominant symptom of elderly depression. So, it is important for family members and caregivers to recognize that sadness isn’t always or the primary symptom of depression in the elderly. If your senior loved one displays one or more of the following symptoms for more than two weeks, it’s important that they be encouraged to talk with their medical provider:

  • Loss of self-worth, such as feeling as though they are a burden
  • Increased use of alcohol or other substances
  • Unexplained or aggravated aches and pains
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Lack of energy and motivation
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Eating more or less than usual
  • Irritability
  • Crying too much or too often
  • Neglecting personal care, such as personal hygiene
  • Difficulty making decision, remembering, or focusing
  • Thoughts of suicide or death


Getting Help For Depressed Elderly Loved Ones

It is important to keep in mind that detecting and treating depression in the elderly may be difficult. Everyone’s physical health status, personal experiences, brain chemistry, and lifestyle are different, so finding an effective treatment plan may require some trial and error. However, if you suspect your elderly loved one is experiencing clinical depression, the first step is to make an appointment with their medical provider. Following a thorough examination, including reviewing all medications, there are a variety of treatments a medical provider may recommend, including psychotherapy and/or antidepressant medications. Although with medical treatments, there are a number of things caregivers and family members can do that may help to relieve the symptoms of depression, including:

  • Encouraging activities
  • Encouraging exercise
  • Encourage healthy meals
  • Encourage the use of weighted blankets
  • Encourage the use of light therapy
  • Encourage meditation
  • Offer emotional support


It is extremely important that the warning signs not be overlooked. If it is left untreated, depression may lead to suicide. Listen carefully if your elderly loved one says others do not care about their wellbeing or if they complain about being depressed-they are usually indirectly asking for help. Taking care of an elderly family member is a rewarding experience, but it can also be overwhelming and emotionally draining. If you are concerned about your elderly loved one being alone, home care may be the answer. Home care services generally include companionship; help with meals and even transportation, all of which can be beneficial in helping seniors with loneliness, which often leads to depression.


If your elderly loved one can benefit from home care services, please contact 1st Meridian Care Services.


Need immediate assistance? Call (858) 529-1886.

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