Geriatric depression is a mental and emotional disorder affecting older adults. Feelings of sadness and occasional “blue” moods are normal. However, lasting depression is not a typical part of aging.
Older adults are more likely to suffer from subsyndromal depression. This type of depression doesn’t always meet the full criteria for major depression. However, it can lead to major depression if left untreated.
Depression in older adults can reduce quality of life, and it increases risk of suicide. Read on to learn about symptoms to watch for and treatment options.
There is no single cause of depression in any age group. Some research indicates that there could be a genetic link to the disease. However, biological, social, and psychological factors all play a role in depression in older adults.
Research suggests that the following may contribute to depression:
- low levels of key neurotransmitter chemicals in the brain (such as serotonin and norepinephrine)
- a family history of depression
- traumatic life events, such as abuse or the death of a loved one
Complications associated with aging may contribute to depression in older adults. These problems can include:
- limited mobility
- facing mortality
- transitioning from work to retirement
- financial hardships
- prolonged substance abuse
- deaths of friends and loved ones
- widowhood or divorce
- chronic medical conditions
Symptoms of depression are the same in any age group. They can include:
- feelings of worthlessness
- crying spells
- lack of concentration
- sleep problems
- changes in appetite
- thoughts of suicide
- physical aches and pains
Depression is often the cause of physical pain in older adults that is not explained by other medical conditions.
Proper diagnosis of geriatric depression can be difficult. The first medical point of contact for older adults is typically their regular doctor. If they are in an assisted living facility, care workers may notice the symptoms of depression.
A mental health expert will assess your symptoms, mood, behavior, day-to-day activities, and family health history. They will ask:
- how long you’ve been feeling depressed
- what brought on the depression
- if you’ve experienced depression in the past
A person must display symptoms of depression for at least two weeks to be diagnosed with the condition.
You can also use this free online geriatric depression scale. It may be helpful in determining whether you or a loved one needs help. However, this should not be used as a replacement for an official diagnosis from a qualified mental health specialist.
Just as depression has no single cause, no one treatment works for everyone. Finding the right depression treatment often takes time. Typical treatment involves a combination of therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes.
Medications used to treat depression include:
- selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
- selective serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
- tricyclic antidepressants
- monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)
Lifestyle changes used to treat depression include:
- increasing physical activity
- finding a new hobby or interest
- having regular visits with family and friends
- getting enough sleep daily
- eating a well-balanced diet
Numerous therapies can also help an elderly person with depression. Art therapy is a process in which you express your feelings creatively. In psychotherapy, you speak in a private setting with a trained therapist.
Geriatric depression can worsen the problems associated with aging. It isn’t always easy to diagnose, but proper treatment can greatly increase your quality of life.
If you’re concerned that someone you know may be depressed, know that family and loved ones can have a profound effect on an older adult’s care. Encourage treatment and offer support to help your loved one live a full, happy life.