Understanding Depression in Seniors: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

Depression in seniors is on the rise. According to Mental Health America, 34 million people over the age of 65 years struggle with some form of depression. Some might think that depression is just one of the signs of aging, but is it really? Not according to the CDC or any other reputable health organization. Not only is depression a sign of ongoing loneliness or actual clinical depression, but it can also be a sign of serious, life-threatening conditions.

Signs and Symptoms of Depression in Seniors

The experience of depression is different for everyone, including depression in senior citizens. Surprisingly, depression in senior citizens doesn’t always manifest as sadness. Here are some of the common signs to watch for, from the senior’s point of view, as well as an outsider’s point of view.

From the Senior’s Point of View


  • Lack of motivation
  • Low energy levels
  • Feelings of pessimism, loss of hope
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness
  • Persistent aches and pains, headaches, digestive issues


What Friends and Family See


  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Not being able to remember details
  • Irritability
  • Loss of interest in things they once enjoyed
  • Overeating or loss of appetite
  • Trouble sleeping


The Role of Prescription Medicine on Depression in Seniors

In many cases, people think of depression as something that is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. It turns out, there are many prescription medications that may have side effects that mimic the symptoms as depression. Others can even exacerbate co-current psychological issues. Some high blood pressure and statin drugs have been found to be linked to depression and mania.

Some medications to look out for are:

  • Antibiotics such as ciproflozacin and gentamicin
  • Parkinson’s drugs such as Carbidopa / Levodopa
  • Corticosteroids such as  hydrocortisone, prednisone, triamcinolone, Flovent and Azmacort
  • Thyroid drug Levothyroxine (Synthroid)

The best recourse is to speak with a physician and determine if any symptoms of depression are being caused by medication. There may be alternative medication available, or the physician can provide help with management of the depression.

Physical Factors That May Contribute to Depression in Seniors

Depression in seniors has also been linked to physical factors, including:

  • Stress, which can manifest in physical symptoms such as headache and fatigue.
  • Malnutrition and nutritional deficiencies, caused by not eating enough or not eating enough nutrient-dense foods.
  • Vascular depression, caused by stiffening of the blood vessels and resulting in less blood reaching vital organs, including the brain.
  • Health condition/diseases such as diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, cancer, stroke, and heart disease can all contribute to depression. Conversely, depression can make these conditions worse.


Getting Help for Depression in Senior Citizens

Taking steps to care for oneself is important, no matter how young or old a person may be. Self-help can include:

  • Meditation and mindfulness exercises
  • Getting plenty of fresh air and sunshine
  • Consuming enough food daily
  • Eating fewer processed foods and more nutrient-dense foods
  • Drinking plenty of water
  • Reducing stress
  • Making exercise a habit and a priority
  • Spending time with family and friends


Invest in Counseling/Therapy

Therapy is a great way for seniors to get support and a listening ear. Counselors give seniors the opportunity to vent and healthfully work through their feelings. Seniors have a variety of therapies to choose from, one of which is bound to fit the person, the situation, and the cause of the depression.

Discuss Medication Options with a Healthcare Provider

Another helpful option is to discuss symptoms with a healthcare provider, like a general physician. A doctor can order diagnostic testing that will explain what’s causing the depression. Based on the diagnosis, the doctor can recommend a therapist, a medical procedure, or a medication aimed at lessening depressive moods.

Take the Wise Path and Seek Out Support

So many seniors are worried they’re going to be a burden on their family members, which causes them to avoid asking for help when they need it most. It’s always important to ask for help, no matter what age a person is. However, as people age, they become more vulnerable to serious, life-threatening illnesses and conditions.

It is vital to seek out help and support as a senior citizen, because support can make all the difference. A sense of connection can help seniors combat overwhelming feelings of depression, and even more so with loved ones.

If you or a loved one suffering from depression, you can contact us today. Volunteers of America – Behavioral Health can put you in touch with someone who can be a source of comfort and support through the darkness of depression.

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