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What does depression in the older adult look like?

December 4, 2018

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, depression affects more than 6.5 million of the 35 million Americans aged 65 and older. Depression can affect us at any age, but may look different when we’re older. In this helpful Q & A, Matthew Manning, NCH Behavioral Health Nurse Manager, explains about depression, describes what it looks like in the older adult, and offers causes as well as tips on avoiding this common condition.

What are some misconceptions about depression?

Depression is a sign of weakness. Depression is something that everyone has. Depression just means that you’re sad. Depression treatment will make you into a zombie and you’ll never change back. There’s nothing you can do to treat depression on your own. All of these are false. The truth is there are internal and external factors that can cause depression.

What does depression actually look like?

Depression symptoms can include:

  • Apathy
  • Excessive sleepiness
  • Lack of sleep
  • Lack of hunger
  • Overeating
  • Anxiety
  • Guilt
  • Hopelessness
  • Mood swings
  • Sadness
  • Poor concentration
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Social isolation
  • Excessive crying

Do older adults experience depression differently?

They may show more physical signs, such as weakness, fatigue and body pain. They may be more isolated and less likely to share their complaints with others. They may be more reluctant to talk about it.

What does depression look like in the older adult?

Depression in older adults can be so significant that it can present as a severe cognitive impairment. Sometimes it can even be confused with dementia. However, there are some differences between the two.

Symptoms of depression among older adults can include:

  • A mental decline that is relatively rapid
  • Difficulty concentrating and slow language and motor skills
  • Noticing and worrying about memory problems

Symptoms of dementia among older adults can include:

  • Mental decline that happens slowly
  • Confusion, disorientation, becoming lost in familiar places
  • Difficulty with short-term memory and impaired writing, speaking and motor skills
  • No concern or notice of memory problems

What causes depression?

Health problems, isolation, loneliness, loss of sense of purpose, bereavement or abandonment, pain or recovering from surgery, and medication are among the causes. Some people have a stronger genetic predisposition to depression, especially if they already have a family member with depression.

How can older adults minimize their risk for depression?

Depression can affect any older adult, sometimes without an apparent cause. While it is impossible to know how or when it will happen, there are several ways to minimize the risk for depression. They may include socializing, avoiding refined carbohydrates and sugars, and eating healthy fats. Connect to something meaningful. Exercise, go into the sunlight, manage pain, and protect your body, including sleep. Know when to get support or professional help. You can do your part to keep your mind healthy.

Do you or does someone you know suffer from depression? NCH has Behavioral Health Services to treat a wide range of mental health issues, including anxiety and depression. Don’t wait. Call 847-618-HEALING or visit where you can take an online assessment and make an appointment.