Detecting depression in older adults can be difficult because symptoms may manifest differently than in younger people. For example, some seniors who are experiencing depression may not display sadness as a major symptom, but rather appear to feel tired more regularly or seem more irritable and grumpier than usual.
What makes diagnosing depression in older adults even more difficult than in younger adults is depression can cause people to get confused more easily or struggle to focus on a specific subject. This confusion may appear to be a brain disorder, such as dementia or Alzheimer's disease. Additionally, older adults may have other medical conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, or cancer, that requires medication whose side effects contribute to depressive symptoms.
However, identifying depression is crucial to developing an effective treatment plan. Here are some signs to look out for, and methods to prevent and treat depression in older adults.
12 Common Signs of Depression in Senior Citizens
It's important to note that while depression is common in older adults, it's not a "normal" part of aging and requires close attention in people of all ages. Here are some signs of depression in senior citizens:
- Loss of interest in favorite activities
- Persistent sadness or "empty" moods
- Trouble sleeping
- Feelings of guilt, hopelessness, helplessness, and worthlessness
- Loss of appetite
- Thoughts of death/suicide
- Frequent crying
- Physical symptoms (aches and pains, digestive distress, headaches, etc.) with no clear cause
- Confusion/attention problems
Some of these symptoms overlap with physical health conditions, such as Alzheimer's disease, or could be side effects of certain prescription drugs. Identifying the cause for these signs of depression is important for developing a proper treatment plan.
Prevention Activities and Treatments for Depression in Older Adults
Prevention is the first step to addressing depression in adults. However, the condition is often inevitable and warrants more intensive treatment. Here are some things you can do to try to prevent and treat depression in older adults:
Preventing depression in senior citizens
- Exercise: Encouraging senior citizens to exercise can do wonders for their mental health. Whether it's moving their body by walking, swimming, or even dancing, help them find what they enjoy to sustain regular activity.
- Healthy diet: If you've ever heard of the gut-brain connection, you understand that what you eat can impact how you think/feel. Eating healthy sends positive signals to the brain that encourages better, more stable moods, better focus, and more energy.
- Uplifting activities: Feeding passion in senior citizens is a great way to lift their spirits. Involve them in activities that interest them or help them stay social, from art projects to gardening, and allow them to get creative and child-like in nature.
Time with family: Spending time with loved ones is the ultimate contributor to healing. While it might be difficult to get together during COVID, many can still call, video-chat or visit their elderly loved one from a safe distance.
Treating older patients with depression
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT is a great form of therapy that helps individuals identify toxic thought patterns and stop over-generalizing and catastrophizing. Many senior citizens struggle with negative thoughts associated with aging, illness, fear of death, isolation and more. CBT is a great way to recognize these unhelpful thoughts and think more clearly/rationally.
- Group therapy: Isolation and loneliness is a common issue for older adults. Through group therapy, seniors tend to feel less alone and more supported, knowing they aren't the only ones feeling a certain way. Group therapy helps people of all ages grow more empowered while building their social connections.
- Medication: When depression is severe and other treatments aren't helping, medication is a great option. No one deserves to suffer from depression, and thanks to various medications on the market, depression doesn't have to be such an issue. While it might take a little experimenting and patience finding a drug that works best for the individual, it's worth alleviating the mental anguish caused by depression.