Depression and its debilitating consequences can strike anyone. However, for
older adults, depression can be an especially difficult problem. A range of biological, psychological, and social changes may occur in older adults that place them increasingly at risk for late-onset depression. Although many people, including many physicians, believe depression is a natural part of aging, depression is not a normal part of aging. Further, when depression occurs, it responds well to treatment.
Consequences of Late-Onset Depression
The following consequences underscore the public health burden and waste of human lives and resources that depression causes in our aging society.
▼ Diminishes the quality of life for the senior, as well as for friends and loved
▼ Depression increases the risk of substance abuse and substance abuse increases the risk of depression
▼ Depressed seniors are up to 3 times more likely to fall than those without
▼ Increased visits to emergency rooms and hospitalizations
▼ Unnecessary or premature nursing facility placement
▼ Increased medical costs
▼ Increased caregiver stress
▼ Decreased ability to plan and control thoughts
▼ Increased coronary heart disease (CHD) and increased mortality from CHD
▼ Increases by up to 60% the likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes
▼ Increased mortality
▼ Increased risk of suicide
Risk Factors for Late-Onset Depression
There is no single cause of depression, but the more risk factors an older adult
has, the more friends, family, health care professionals, and others should actively
screen for signs of depression. These risk factors include:
▼ Multiple chronic illnesses, including cancer, Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease
▼ Social isolation. Depression both contributes to and results from social isolation
▼ Alcohol or drug abuse (including prescription and over-the-counter drugs)
▼ Lack of mobility
▼ Some prescription medications
Signs of Depression
▼ Especially for elderly persons, depression may not appear as a feeling of
sadness or “the blues.” Rather, it is often experienced as an uncharacteristic
lack of pleasure in life, irritability, “crankiness,” despair over the quality of
life, helplessness, or anger.
▼ Physical changes, such as aches and pains, complaints, weight changes,
appetite changes, fatigue, lack of energy, or a change in sleeping patterns.
▼ Emotional symptoms, such as an overall “empty” mood, apathy, crying
without reason, or indifference.
▼ Slow or disorganized thinking, lack of concentration or memory problems,
▼ Thoughts of death or suicide.
▼ Behavioral changes, such as a loss of interest in previously enjoyed
activities, sexual disinterest, and neglect of appearance or hygiene. They
may also experience difficulty with ordinary daily tasks, withdrawal from
people, and an increase in alcohol or other drug use.
What to Do
Don’t ignore noticeable changes in an older person’s behavior or moods. These changes could be symptoms of depression or other conditions for which help is available. Seek medical and psychological evaluation which can lead to treatment that can return an older person to a productive and happy life. Helpful actions include:
▼ Supportive counseling that might include pastoral counseling or peer support.
▼ Support groups that link older adults to other persons going through similar
problems. These provide a sheltered environment for sharing experiences,
advice, and encouragement.
▼ Socialization activities that include “friendly visits,” social groups, recreational activities, more involvement with the family.
▼ Therapy from a mental health professional
▼ Antidepressant medications