Depression in older adults, also known as geriatric depression, isn’t a “normal” part of getting older. It’s not something you should plan on experiencing. It is the unfortunate cause of biological, social, and psychological factors.
While most older adults aren’t depressed, unfortunately, older adults are at an increased risk for depression. And you may be surprised to know that depression in older adults doesn’t always resemble depression in younger individuals. So to prevent geriatric depression, it’s a good idea to understand the causes and symptoms and what you can do to prevent it in yourself or someone you care about.
What is Geriatric Depression?
Depression in older adults is just that – depression. It affects people of all ages and doesn’t discriminate. However, geriatric depression refers to a diagnosable mood disorder in older adults and presents as a persistent loss of interest in doing things once enjoyable and persistent feelings of sadness. According to the CDC, roughly seven million U.S. adults aged 65 years or older experience geriatric depression yearly.
Another unfortunate fact about depression in older adults is that it often goes overlooked. Many older individuals may not recognize their depression symptoms or may not want to “burden” others with their changing feelings and emotions.
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Some reasons why depression in older adults may go overlooked include the following:
- thinking depression is an inevitable part of aging
- isolation with few interactions with others to notice changes in mental well-being
- not realizing that some physical concerns may be a sign of geriatric depression
- being reluctant to ask for help or talk about it
It’s crucial to be in tune with your emotional well-being and any changes in your mental health or the mental health of someone you love. Just as it is in anyone, depression in older adults is treatable with the help of a qualified, professional mental health care team.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Depression in Older Adults?
Left untreated, geriatric depression can cause concentration ability and other cognitive changes. Unfortunately, such symptoms could be inaccurately labeled as symptoms of dementia. That’s why understanding what depression in older adults looks like is critical to getting the most appropriate care.
While sadness and loss of interest are two of the most prominent symptoms of depression in everyone, depression in older adults may look a little differently and carry symptoms you may not expect.
Symptoms of geriatric depression include the following:
- unexplained or aggravated aches and pains in the body
- lack of energy and motivation
- changes in sleep patterns, such as trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, oversleeping, and being sleepy during the day
- self-loathing or feelings of worthlessness
- worries about being a burden to others
- feelings of helplessness and hopelessness
- weight loss or loss of appetite
- slowed speech or movement
- increased use of alcohol or drugs
- fixation on death
- suicidal thoughts
- problems with memory
- neglecting personal care (skipping meals, neglecting personal hygiene, or not taking medication)
- feelings of despair
- loss of interest in hobbies and social activities
While it’s true many with depression at any age, feel overwhelming sadness. Older adults with depression may feel sad, but surprisingly, they may not. In fact, many may say they don’t feel sadness. Instead, they may complain more, have low energy levels, and have more physical problems.
Some older adults with depression experience increased arthritis pain and headaches. These symptoms can be easily shrugged off as symptoms of aging, but it’s crucial they aren’t. They could be signs of geriatric depression.
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Causes of Depression in Older Adults
As you age, you often face life changes that increase your chance of developing depression. Some of these include the following:
- Loneliness and isolation: Your social circle may decrease as friends and loved ones relocate or pass away. Additionally, you may experience decreased mobility or other issues that limit your driving and traveling abilities.
- Health issues: With age, you may experience increased illness, pain, and cognitive changes. These can add to your risk of developing geriatric depression.
- Fear: You may meditate on thoughts of dying or experience anxiety when worrying about health issues, financial concerns, or even abuse and neglect.
- Reduced sense of purpose: When you retire and get older, you may feel a loss of identity, self-confidence, and financial security. Paired with this, you may not be able to physically participate in activities you once enjoyed. These add to the risk of developing depression.
- Loss of loved ones: You will likely lose others as you age. You may outlive a spouse, partner, family members, and friends, increasing your risk of developing geriatric depression.
The Importance of Therapy and Support for Older Adults
Staying tuned in to your emotions, feelings, and physical symptoms, or those of a loved one, is crucial when preventing depression in older adults. As an aging adult, it’s essential to stay
connected with friends and family as much as possible and branch out to new groups of friends and activities if necessary. You may also benefit from support groups for older adults.
Related post: Understanding Depression in Adolescents
But if you believe you or someone you love is suffering from geriatric depression, support through therapy is also important. Mental health professionals are skilled at recognizing depression in older adults and can effectively partner with them to work through any struggles.
Treating depression in older adults often involves three action items:
Therapy works wonders when treating depression in older adults. A trusted provider can help you or someone you love work through any underlying issues contributing to depression and guide them through healthy changes and patterns of thinking to cope with changing emotions.
While medication isn’t always necessary, it can be a key component in helping to fight geriatric depression. And because older adults may already be taking medications, a mental health professional can provide the best option that won’t interact with current medications.
Before making any lifestyle changes, it’s a good idea to partner with your therapist and your doctor to ensure it’s a good idea for you. Typically, changes like getting more physical activity, eating healthier, prioritizing sleep, avoiding alcohol, and increasing socializing are what you should focus on.
Related post: How to Establish Healthy Sleep Patterns With Depression
Choose BOLD Health for Depression Treatment in San Diego
Whether it’s you or someone you care about who’s worried about depression in older adults, BOLD Health can help. Not only do we offer high-quality depression treatment in San Diego at our Encinitas facility, but we also provide online depression therapy in San Diego and all of California.
Our team of skilled clinicians can help you or your loved one through their struggles with geriatric depression. You’ll learn new, healthy coping skills, uncover underlying causes of depression, and help you find joy and fulfillment in this chapter of your life.
There’s no reason you have to feel sad, lonely, forgotten, or unimportant. You are a remarkable, beautiful individual who deserves happiness and life enjoyment. You have much to offer, and we’ll help you realize that and enjoy your life again.
Contact us to learn more about our depression therapy options in San Diego and California. We’re here for you every step of the way.