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Recognizing depression in the elderly

Depression is common in the elderly, but it’s often hard to recognize. Caregivers may miss the signs of depression or mistake them for side effects from medications and illness. A survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that approximately 7 million adults over the age of 65 suffer from depression. Common causes of depression in the elderly include changes in life, loss of independence, fear of death, loss of a spouse, lack of social life or prior mental health history.   

How do you know if your loved one is depressed?  
While it’s common for the elderly to experience physical symptoms due to illness or the aging process, signs of serious depression should not be treated as normal behavior. There are key signs and behaviors that may indicate your loved one is depressed.  

Common signs of depression in the elderly 


  • Loss of memory or trouble concentrating  
    A common symptom of depression is loss of memory and concentration. Since these are the major symptoms for those with Alzheimer’s and dementia, it is often hard for a caregiver to see it as a symptom of depression.  
  • Lethargy and lack of interest  
    Lethargy is the most common symptom of depression. When your loved one is lethargic, they have a lack of interest in doing things that may have once brought them joy. They may often be fatigued, stay in bed longer and isolate themselves, withdrawing and having no interest in social activities.  
  • Increased anxiety  
    Anxiety is a common sign of depression, which makes it difficult to go out in social situations. Fear of injury or even death may become difficult to manage. Anxiety may manifest itself in panic attacks, increased agitation, and increased heart rates.  
  • Changes in appetite  
    It’s common to not want to eat regularly or the opposite effect can happen where food is turned to for comfort and an individual will eat in excess. Food triggers chemicals in the brain that may temporarily elevate one’s mood and bring them comfort. On the other hand, those who exhibit lethargy, often have no interest in eating. It’s important to record and take notes on eating patterns, and if there are any changes to ask your healthcare provider to see if depression may be the underlying cause. 
  • Changes or disruptions of sleep patterns 
    If your loved one is depressed, they may sleep longer, not wanting to get out of bed and face the day. Others, those who are most likely prone to anxiety, may sleep much less than they normally would.   

If your loved one exhibits any of these symptoms, they may be going through a depressive episode. Depression is a serious condition that can lead to other health problems. It’s important for caregivers to take these signs seriously and to reach out to a physician for screening and to develop a treatment plan if needed.  

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