Elderly Depression: What Might Look Different or Unexpected

Depression is one of the most common mental health conditions worldwide, and it affects people of all ages and demographics. If you experienced depression in the past, you may be more likely to experience depression in older age. That said, older adults don’t recognize their emotional or physical complaints as a sign of a mental health condition.

Elderly Depression: Statistics and What You Need to Know

Older adults are at an increased risk of experiencing depression. One of the main risk factors to consider is the presence of other illnesses. If you have a medical condition, you may be more prone to feeling depressed, and the symptoms of certain conditions can also mimic that of a mood disorder.

Research shows that between 1-5% of older adults have depression. This number rises to 11.5% for older hospitalized patients and almost 14% for those who need home healthcare.

That said, mental illness often goes undetected or misunderstood in older people. Some of the main risk factors of depression in this demographic include:

  • living alone or being isolated from others
  • having a family history of depression
  • having a history of depressive symptoms
  • experiencing a chronic illness
  • having any history of trauma

Elderly depression can affect every part of someone’s life, and suicide rates among this specific population are on the rise. And while only 1 in 200 younger adults complete an attempted suicide, 1 in 4 older adults succeed in their attempts.

Understanding the Signs of Severe Depression

It’s important to know that depression may be typical, but it is not inherently a normal part of growing older. While everyone experiences a depressed mood from time to time, depression symptoms are more pervasive and intense. They significantly disrupt your quality of life.

Signs of major depression include:

  • suicidal thoughts or suicidal behaviors
  • persistent feelings of worthlessness
  • chronic sadness or irritability
  • unexplained or aggravated aches
  • chronic fatigue
  • cognitive decline
  • increased substance use
  • sleep disturbances
  • new or worsening headaches

An older person with depression may start neglecting personal hygiene or stop taking care of their medical illnesses. They may also exhibit other cognitive or physical symptoms that people might otherwise dismiss as being due to old age.

Grief and Depression: Understanding the Relationship

The aging process inevitably comes with loss, and every loss can be complex and painful. Loss isn’t just in the form of death. It can also refer to losing a job, former identity, mobility, health status, or other important parts of your life.

Grief and clinical depression are not the same, but symptoms can overlap. Grief is more of a roller coaster of heightened emotions. Some days are bad, others are good, but the emotions tend to ebb and flow. Depression, on the other hand, often feels more static. There can be a profound sadness and a persistent sense of hopelessness about life.

However, grief can certainly worsen depression, and depression can also exacerbate grief. Neither healing process has a specific timeline.

Stigma of Depression in Older Adults

Both older and younger adults face judgment when seeking appropriate treatment for their depression. Many downplay or conceal their symptoms because they worry about being judged, criticized, or simply ignored.

Some older adults struggle with feeling inferior for seeking help. They may worry about being a burden to family members, or they might assume that they’re not resilient enough if they’re struggling with their mental health.

To complicate matters, the clinical presentation of elderly depression may be overlooked. For examples, doctors might not adequately screen for mental health issues, or they might focus more on physical complaints than emotional ones. Furthermore, there is less clinical research focused on identifying and treating depression in older adults.

Depression Treatment Options for Older Adults

Depression treatment can be multifaceted, which means it may include several components.

Talk therapy: Therapy for depression offers a supportive environment to process your emotions and talk about your current life circumstances. Therapy will help you understand your depression triggers and help you identify new ways to cope with your emotions.

Psychiatric medication: Medication can support depression treatment. Antidepressants work by enhancing feel-good neurotransmitters, including serotonin and dopamine, in the brain.

Healthy lifestyle changes: Socializing with others, practicing regular self-care, getting enough sleep, and eating well can all support treatment efforts.

Support groups: Depression support groups provide peer connection and reinforce that you’re not alone. These groups may be peer-led or facilitated by a trained clinician.

Therapy for Depression in Older Adults in Austin, TX

Depression affects people across the lifespan, but the mental health needs of older adults are often overlooked or misunderstood. However, if you’re struggling, therapy can provide you with a compassionate space to better understand your symptoms. Together, we can also collaborate on reasonable strategies that you can use to improve your emotional well-being.

I am well-versed in the mental health needs of depressed older adults, and I understand the intersection that often comes with grief and managing other medical conditions.

Regardless of your specific circumstances, I am here to provide you with emotional support. I welcome you to contact me today to schedule an initial consultation.

4601 Spicewood Springs Road Building 3, Suite 200
Austin, TX 78759

(512) 988-3363

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