Recognizing Depression in Older Adults

 

All major life transitions present challenges. One of the most difficult can be identifying our evolving purpose and new relationships with others as we move from one phase of life to another. Depression in older adults is especially common due to the expedited pace of such change. The higher likelihood of dear friends and family passing, retirement from a beloved job, or the potentiality of moving to an unfamiliar setting can all contribute to feelings of confusion, sadness, and even physical symptoms.

Symptoms of Senior Mental Health Problems

It is important to acknowledge depression is not “all in your head” and easily can occur in the lives of formerly happy, content, high-achieving individuals. It is a genuine, medically-based mood disorder that, when untreated, can severely impact the quality of life.

It can be challenging to distinguish between general sadness and clinical depression in older adults, particularly for those suffering the most. If you’ve been through several major changes lately, you may even ascribe depression as a normal response. Despite being very common, clinical depression, lasting several weeks or more, is neither “normal” nor inevitable for older adults.

Depression “looks” different on everyone, and each individual will present with different symptoms. However, you can help your friends and family by being on the lookout for certain common behaviors, such as:

  • Sleep issues such as insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Sudden or drastic changes in mood or behavior, including anxiety, restlessness, or feelings of hopelessness
  • Overwhelming feelings of sadness or sluggishness
  • Significant changes in appetite leading to overconsumption or under-consumption of food, leading to sudden shifts in body weight
  • Unwillingness to participate in favorite activities
  • Difficulty thinking clearly, sudden memory loss, or overall “slow” thinking
  • Social withdrawal
  • Abuse of controlled substances such as alcohol or unprescribed narcotics
  • Lingering physical symptoms such as headache, digestive issues, and fatigue

Some genetic factors predispose some individuals to depression over others. For example, females appear to experience depression more frequently than males, and those with a personal or family history may be more prone to recurring bouts.

In addition, it’s not uncommon that depression is the result of an untreated physical ailment. Depression often accompanies acute or chronic medical conditions such as diabetes or cancer or may result as a side-effect of otherwise beneficial medication. Therefore, it is essential to speak to your primary physician immediately if you or a loved one experiences more than one of the above symptoms.

Is There Treatment for Depression in Older Adults?

Some individuals resist treating their depression, afraid they will only be prescribed mood-altering medications or be forced to lie on a psychiatrist’s couch. However, current approaches to treatment are much more comprehensive and present measurable benefits to everyone, whether or not they struggle with depression.

These supports may include:

  • Physical exercise programs
  • Intellectual stimulation in the form of courses, hobbies, and other recreational activities
  • Opportunities for social connection through the community, such as through volunteering
  • Nutritional coaching uses the power of wholesome food to naturally support mental wellness