Health Care Mental Health

Depression in Older Adults Recognizing and Addressing Mental Health

A Senior Woman Stares Out of a Window

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Depression is the most common mental illness experienced by older adults, but that doesn’t mean it’s a normal part of aging. In fact, according to the National Institute on Aging, most older adults say they feel satisfied with their lives, despite having more illnesses or physical problems than younger people.

Still, as people age, they often find themselves spending more time alone, and loneliness and isolation are linked to higher rates of depression. That’s why recognizing the signs is important.

Recognizing Signs of Depression in Older Adults

Depression is a serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act.

Symptoms of depression in older adults are sometimes difficult to recognize because they may be different from those in younger people. For example, for some older adults with depression, sadness isn’t the main symptom — a lack of interest in activities is more prominent.

Depression symptoms can also mimic those of dementia and other cognitive conditions, leading to misdiagnosis.

Signs of depression may include:

  • Chronic fatigue
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Feelings of sadness or emptiness
  • Irritability or restlessness
  • Memory issues
  • Sleeping too much
  • Thoughts of self-harm or suicide attempts
  • Trouble concentrating

Many of these signs can be normal parts of life when they happen from time to time. But when they last for a few weeks or months, it’s time to talk with your doctor.

Treatment Options for Senior Depression

Even severe depression can be treated. Although certain medications can be effective at treating depression in older adults, age can affect the way medicines are absorbed and used in the body. For that reason, the risk of drug interactions — particularly in older adults who are on multiple medications — is higher than it is in younger people.

That’s why treatment for older adults may include a combination of medication and psychotherapy (or “talk therapy”) with a psychologist, psychiatrist or other licensed mental health care professional. Examples of psychotherapy include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and interpersonal therapy (IPT).

Other forms of treatment include electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), which uses electrodes to pass mild electric current through the brain, and repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS), which uses magnets to activate the brain.

Supporting Mental Health in Seniors

Although depression is a medical condition that must be treated by a doctor or licensed mental health professional, there are ways family and friends can help.

Encouraging your loved one to see their doctor is a great way to help. Getting them out for physical activity, like a walk or bike ride, can be beneficial, too.

Supporting other healthy lifestyle habits can also help, including encouraging your loved one to:

  • Eat a balanced diet
  • Get enough sleep each night, typically between seven to nine hours
  • Stay in touch with family and friends
  • Participate in enjoyable activities

Mind Over Matter: Mental Health Support

The first week of October is Mental Illness Awareness Week, a time when organizations around the country raise awareness of mental illness, combat the stigma and provide support to sufferers.

If you or a loved one is struggling with a mental illness like depression, you can find all the support and resources you need by partnering with our expert, caring team.

Learn more about our services for older adults.

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