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How to Spot Depression in the Elderly

Did you know that approximately six million Americans over the age of 65 are affected by late-life depression?

The elderly often show symptoms of depression differently, and these signs are commonly confused with various illnesses. To this point, only about 10 percent of older adults receive proper depression treatment.

For the elderly, life changes can lead to depression. These causes and risk factors include but aren’t limited to:

  • Health complications – Chronic or severe pain, cognitive decline, illness and disabilities can lead to depression.
  • Loneliness and isolation – Those who are living alone, who have a dwindling social circle or are facing decreased mobility can experience symptoms of depression.
  • Decreased sense of purpose – Depression can be caused by the inability to carry out physical activities or even a loss of identity due to retirement or other life changes.

Beyond these risk factors, depression can also be caused by medical problems. Chronic illnesses that are disabling, painful or life-threatening can lead to depression or worsen its symptoms.

These medical conditions include:

  • Cancer
  • Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Lupus
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Thyroid disorders
  • Vitamin B12 deficiency

It’s important to know that depression can affect a person far beyond his or her mood. In fact, depression can prevent a person from enjoying life, and can adversely impact appetite, energy, sleep and overall physical health.

If you believe that your elderly loved one may have depression, take note of the following red flags, which may indicate that he or she is suffering from this condition.

  • Abandoning or losing interest in hobbies or other favorite activities
  • Anxiety and worry
  • Aggravated or unexplained aches and pains
  • Changes in sleep patterns – difficulty falling asleep or daytime sleepiness
  • Fatigue
  • Fixation on death
  • Loss of appetite or weight loss
  • Loss of self-worth (intimates that he or she is a burden, feelings of worthlessness)
  • Neglecting personal care (forgetting to take medication, neglecting personal hygiene, skipping meals)
  • Problems with memory
  • Sadness
  • Slowed speech and movement
  • Social withdrawal and isolation (unwillingness to be with friends, partake in activities or leave home)

If you suspect that your elderly loved one, or anyone in your family, is experiencing depression to the point of suicide or self-harm, seek emergency help immediately.

If you’d like to learn more about the warning signs of depression in the elderly, contact your primary care physician.

Check back in the coming weeks to learn more about the treatment options for depression.

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St. Barnabas Health System
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