Senior Depression: What are the Warning Signs?

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Clinical depression in seniors is common. And, dealing with aging parents with depression can be challenging. But, while it’s a common ailment, it doesn’t mean it’s a normal thing. Elderly depression impacts around six million individuals in the U.S. ages 65 years old and older. However, only 10 percent actually receive treatment for depression. This is because seniors often display signs of depression differently.

Depression in seniors is also often confused with symptoms and effects of multiple conditions as well as the medications used for treating them. Therefore, knowing the warning signs can help you and your aging parents know if indeed they are suffering from elderly depression and receive the right type of treatment.

What Is Senior Depression?

Geriatric depression, which is the term for depression in the elderly, is an emotional and mental condition that affects older adults. It’s normal for older adults to experience some feelings of sadness, however, depression that lasts isn’t a normal part of aging.

The elderly are more likely to deal with subsyndromal depression. This is where your aging parent would display some depression symptoms, but the symptoms don’t meet the full criteria for a diagnosis of major depression. But it could result in major depression if not treated.

Warning Signs of Depression in the Elderly

Senior depression can decrease the quality of life and increase their risk of suicide. So, it’s important to know the signs you should be looking for. Depression red flags include:

  • Aggravated or unexplained pains and aches
  • Feelings of despair or sadness
  • Lack of energy or motivation
  • Loss of interest in hobbies or socializing
  • Feelings of helplessness or hopelessness
  • Loss of appetite or weight loss
  • Memory problems
  • Slowed speech or movement
  • Sleep disturbances (trouble falling or staying asleep, daytime sleepiness or oversleeping)
  • Thoughts of suicide or fixation on death
  • Loss of self-worth (feelings of worthlessness, worries about being a burden or self-loathing)
  • Increased use of drugs or alcohol
  • Neglecting personal care (forgetting meds, skipping meals, neglecting personal hygiene)

Factors Linking Aging and Senior Depression

There’s no one cause of depression in anyone of any age. Research shows there could be a genetic association with the condition. However, social, biological and psychological factors all contribute to elderly depression.

Research also suggests the following factors could contribute to depression:

  • A family history of depression
  • Low levels of important brain neurotransmitter chemicals like norepinephrine and serotonin
  • Traumatic life events like the death of a loved one or abuse

Complications linked with aging could also contribute to senior depression and include:

  • Isolation
  • Limited mobility
  • Divorce or widowhood
  • Facing mortality
  • Financial hardships
  • Transitioning from work to retirement
  • Prolonged substance abuse
  • Chronic medical conditions

Depression is a very real disease. It’s not a sign your parent is weak or has a character flaw. It’s not like you can “snap out of” depression. Many individuals experiencing depression require treatment to get better. So, if you notice any of these warning signs and are dealing with aging parents depression, you should set up an appointment for your senior parent right away so they can receive a diagnosis and get treated.

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