Emotional Well-Being|Family Health|Mental Health|Prevention and Wellness|Seniors
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Depression in Older Adults

Last Updated April 2022 | This article was created by familydoctor.org editorial staff and reviewed by Beth Oller, MD

What is depression?

Depression is a medical illness. It affects your mental and physical health. Anyone can have depression, including older adults. In addition to the standard depression symptoms, older adults may:

  • Have delusions or hallucinations
  • Have memory problems or confusion

Path to improved health

Depression is common in adults who are more than 65 years of age. However, it is not a normal part of growing older. Older adults can be depressed for many reasons. Possible reasons for depression include:

  • Age
  • Retirement
  • Health conditions, such as cancer, heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, or thyroid disorders
  • Loss of loved ones
  • Lack of freedom or ability
  • Move to a family home or care facility

Some older adults who are depressed may have dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease. It can be hard to tell the difference between these symptoms and changes that occur naturally while aging. Also, older adults may not tell their doctor or caregiver how they feel. This means many people do not receive help. It is important to know that it is not your fault. Depression is nothing to be embarrassed about. It is not a personal weakness, but a medical illness that can be treated.

Things to consider

Currently, the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) recommends that adults be screened for depression.

If you are caring for an older adult, pay attention to their behavior. If you notice changes or symptoms of depression, contact their doctor. Diagnosis and treatment of your loved one’s depression is important. It can help decrease their risk of mental decline, other illnesses, and suicide.

Contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline if you think your loved one is having thoughts of suicide. Call 911 if they attempt suicide.

When to see the doctor

Feeling sad at times is normal. But if these feelings persist and keep you from your usual activities, you may be depressed. Your doctor may do an exam and refer you to a specialist. This could include a counselor, therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist. You can talk to them about what and how you feel.

A combination of counseling and medicine can help treat depression in most older adults. Tell your doctor about all the prescriptions you take. A medicine may be causing your depression.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • How can I tell if I am or a loved one is depressed?
  • What can I do to prevent depression?
  • What types of medicine help treat depression in older adults? What are the side effects?
  • Can you recommend a support group for an older adult who is depressed?
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