Depression In Elderly

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

In the elderly, a number of life changes can increase the risk for dep
ression, or make existing depression worse. Some of these changes are:

  • Adapting to a move from home to an apartment or retirement facility
  • Chronic pain
  • Feelings of isolation or loneliness as children move away and their spouse andclose friends die
  • Loss of independence (problems getting around, caring for themselves, ordriving
  • Multiple illnesses
  • Struggles with memory loss and problems thinking clearly
  • Elderly people often use alcohol to self-treat depression, but this may make symptoms worse
  • Depression can be a sign of a physical illness. It can be a psychological reaction to the illness, or directly caused by the physical illness.
  • Physical illnesses that increase the risk for depression include: thyroid disorders, Parkinson's disease, heart disease, cancer, and stroke.
  • Symptoms of depression may occur as part of dementia ( Alzheimer's disease).
  • Symptoms of depression are also a side effect of many drugs commonly prescribed for the elderly.


Many of the usual symptoms of depression may be present in the elderly.  Depression in the elderly may be hard to detect. Common symptoms such as fatigue, loss of appetite, and trouble sleeping can be part of the aging process or a physical illness.  As a result, early depression may be ignored, or confused with other conditions that are common in the elderly.

Clues to depression in the elderly may include:

  • Being more confused or forgetful.
  • Eating less. The refrigerator may be empty or contain spoiled food.
  • Not bathing or shaving as often. Visitors may notice smells of urine or stool.
  • Clothes may be dirty and wrinkled.
  • Not taking care of the home.
  • Stopping medicines or not taking them correctly.
  • Withdrawing from others. Not talking as much, and not answering the phone or returning phone calls.


The first step is to address any physical illnesses and stop taking any medications that may be making your symptoms worse. Antidepressant drug therapy should be carefully monitored for side effects, which can be more common in the elderly. Doctors usually prescribe lower doses of antidepressants for older people, and increase the dose more slowly than in younger adults.

To better manage depression at home, elderly people should:

  • Exercise regularly, seek out pleasurable activities, and maintain good sleep habits.
  • Learn to watch for the early signs of depression, and know how to react if it gets worse.
  • Minimize alcohol use and avoid illegal drugs. These substances can make depression worse over time, and they may also impair judgment about suicide.
  • Surround themselves with people who are caring and positive.
  • Talk about their feelings to someone they trust.
  • Take medications correctly and learn how to manage side effects.


(pub med health, 2010)

(2010, 08 15). Retrieved from pub med health: www.ncbi,