Senior Home Care Blog - Western Cook & Eastern DuPage Counties

Depression Looks Different in Older Adults

By Mary L. Doepke, RN

Older adults who are depressed are often more grumpy than sad. Rather than tears, their depression shows itself in irritability.

Depression in seniors is not something to be ignored, or to be passed off as a normal part of aging. Not only can untreated depression get worse, it also can lead to other physical problems – even suicide. In fact, suicide rates among white men over 85 are the highest in the United States.

Add to this the fact that too many older people refuse to acknowledge their depression or to seek treatment, and it’s clearly a dangerous situation.

Home Helpers’ Director of Memory Care Services Jackie Raschke said dementia and depression often go hand in hand. In fact, one can lead to the other.

Many things can trigger depression in seniors, including:

  • Big life changes, such as the loss of a spouse or the need to leave one’s home.
  • Common ailments, including diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and dementia, Parkinson’s disease and cancer.
  • Medications, including some blood pressure drugs, pain killers and beta blockers
  • Loneliness and isolation.

As a caregiver or family member of an aging adult, it’s important to know the signs to look for.

  • Be aware that changes such as the loss of a spouse, loss of driving privileges or a move can trigger depression.
  • Statements such as “I don’t want to be a burden,” or “I don’t belong here,” can be warning signs that an older adult is thinking of suicide.
  • Unexplained aches and pains can be caused by depression.
  • Watch for signs that your loved one may be self medicating with alcohol, food or drugs.
  • A person with depression may have trouble sleeping and may stop performing self-care tasks such as bathing, eating and brushing their teeth.
  • Depression can even show up cognitively. A person with depression may experience memory loss or slowed speech.

If you suspect depression, encourage your loved one to tell their doctor. Let them know that depression is a medical condition and not a sign of weakness or a character flaw.

If you suspect that your loved one may be thinking of suicide, get help right away. Call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline - 1-800-273-TALK – is a 24-hour resource staffed with trained counselors who can direct callers to their nearest crisis center.

The Institute on Aging’s 24-hour Friendship Line is geared specifically toward people 60 and older. Older people are often reluctant to contact traditional suicide prevention centers, so the Institute on Aging created the Friendship Line as a way to reach out to lonely, depressed older adults.  Whether they are in crisis or just want to talk to someone, seniors can call the national hotline - 800-971-0016 – any time, knowing there is a friendly ear on the other side.