A little sadness around aging is expected, but serious depression in seniors is a mental health emergency.
That’s why it’s critical that caregivers understand depression in senior adults, learn to recognize the signs, and get help as soon as possible.
How Common Is Depression in Seniors?
The good news is that the CDC estimates the majority of older adults are not depressed. Seniors living in the community – at home or in group settings – have low rates of depression, from less than 1% to about 5%.
But depression is more common in people with multiple illnesses, and according to the Centers for Disease Control most (80%) older adults have at least one chronic condition; half have two or more.
Feelings of depression are more likely in seniors with reduced mobility and independence. Older adults who are homebound or in the hospital have higher rates of 13.5% and 11.5%, respectively.
Finally, lost connections to friends and family – whether from isolation or death – also prompt feelings of loneliness and grief in older adults. Learn how to use social media to improve engagement.
Signs of Depression in Seniors
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, seniors who are depressed feel sad or anxious for more than two weeks, and may also experience any of the following symptoms:
- Persistent pain, headaches, cramps or digestive problems that don’t improve, even after treatment
- Feelings of guilt, helplessness, hopelessness and/or pessimism
- Irritability, restlessness
- Loss of interest in hobbies, interests or activities
- Decreased energy, enthusiasm/increased fatigue
- Challenges when concentrating or making decisions
- Sleeping a lot or not at all
- Overeating or appetite loss
- Thoughts of or attempts at suicide
White men aged 75 and older are three times more likely to commit suicide than the general population, according to data from the U.S. Surgeon General’s office. If a loved one is contemplating suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention line at 1-800-273-8255 or 9-1-1 for immediate assistance and support.
Seeking Help for Depression
When depression is treated in seniors, many associated cognitive issues often clear up quickly. Concentration can improve, and energy and appetite can bounce back to previous levels. Yet many of us feel a stigma about getting mental health help.
Overcoming this feeling is critical to keeping seniors safe and healthy. Don’t wait to get medical support from your family doctor or home healthcare provider.
Currently, under Medicare, seniors are entitled to one depression screening per year, and most Medicare prescription drug plans cover a range of antidepressant medications. In addition to medication, the doctor may recommend that your loved one see a counselor. Medicare Part B helps cover both individual and group therapy. The doctor should be able to make a referral to a counselor who specializes in working with seniors. If your senior family member exhibits any symptoms of depression for more than two weeks, seek medical help immediately. With early detection and proper treatment, seniors with depression can safely return to happier and more fulfilling lives.
A note for caregivers: Pairing the overwhelming weight of caregiver duties with the realization that a loved one is ill can also be quite a load for caregivers. If you find yourself struggling with caregiver depression or anxiety, you should get medical assistance, too. Contact your physician immediately for an appointment so you can stay mentally and emotionally fit.