Depression can strike anyone at any age and has a well-defined set of symptoms. The symptoms of depression in seniors, however, are a little different. While the overall pattern of symptoms is similar at any age, elderly depression symptoms can manifest in different ways. If you or a loved one is in or approaching this age group, symptom awareness is important to help you spot the signs and get prompt treatment.
Symptoms of Depression in Seniors
People experience different kinds of changes when they’re depressed. These include mood changes, changes in motivation levels, and physical changes. In seniors, the symptoms of depression include the following:
Changes in mood – These may include feelings of:
Irritability and/or restlessness – For instance, feeling that you can’t settle down to an activity or chore or feeling irritable over things that normally wouldn’t be problems for you.
Changes in appetite and/or weight – Food doesn’t taste as good as it used to. Even foods you particularly enjoy might be less pleasurable.
Less energy – Your energy levels may feel lower, leaving you too lethargic for even small tasks and chores.
Cognitive changes – For instance, difficulty making decisions, concentrating on tasks, and remembering details
Changes in sleeping patterns – Such as difficulty falling asleep or waking earlier than usual
Physical ailments – Such as:
- Aches and pains
- Muscle tension and cramps
- Digestive problems
This may make you feel more preoccupied with or worried about your physical health.
Less interest in staying active – This might mean a lack of interest or pleasure in hobbies and other activities. You might be less interested in communicating or socializing with friends and family.
Difficulty keeping up with personal hygiene and/or housework – This isn’t necessarily because you’re physically unable to do these things; it’s more about a lack of motivation. You may wake up and intend to shower or clean the house, but those things just don’t get done.
How Are Depression Symptoms in Younger Adults Different from Elderly Depression Symptoms?
Many depression symptoms are similar in younger adults compared to older adults. For instance, changes in sleep, appetite, and motivation levels occur in all age groups, but there are important differences to know about. They could be the difference between diagnosis and treatment, and continuing to suffer from depression.
How do depression symptoms compare in younger versus older adults?
The most important difference is that seniors are less likely to experience low mood when they are depressed. Persistent feelings of sadness are one of the most common depression symptoms in young people and adults. In seniors, this is much less common. Because sadness and low mood are strongly associated with depression, the lack of them is one major reason seniors—and their friends and caregivers—don’t recognize when they have depression.
Seniors are more likely to experience irritability, anxiety, and physical symptoms as a result of depression. These are symptoms that do occur in other age groups, but they’re more common in older people. Physical symptoms of depression aren’t always recognized as such, even in younger people. For seniors, however, physical ailments are very often assumed to be due to aging, rather than depression. Someone with muscle tension is much more likely to take painkillers than to realize that they may be depressed. Even when they visit their doctor, they’re more likely to come away with a new painkiller prescription than one for antidepressants.
Some Symptoms May Be Overlooked
Depression is relatively common in older people, affecting nearly 1 in 20 adults over 50. However, most seniors with depression go untreated. The main reason for this is simply that often, elderly depression symptoms aren’t seen for what they are. Symptoms such as reduced sleep and appetite, physical ailments, and cognitive changes, are frequently overlooked. Families, caregivers, and seniors themselves tend to assume these symptoms are related to aging.
This isn’t the case at all. Many older adults do see a decline in their physical health and cognitive abilities. This often occurs due to aging, and few people avoid these effects entirely, but experiencing these changes as a result of depression isn’t normal.
Depression symptoms shouldn’t be overlooked just because they happen to an older person. Some people do go through such changes as they get older, but that doesn’t mean they’re always the result of aging.
Why Symptom Patterns Are Important
Most of the symptoms of depression in seniors are changes that are very often attributed to aging. It’s a common myth that reduced appetite, less sleep, and a preoccupation with health problems are things that happen to everyone as they get older. This just isn’t true. Since the symptoms of depression are so often misunderstood, it’s important to think about symptom patterns, instead of focusing on different symptoms in isolation.
For instance, perhaps you’ve noticed your memory has been poor lately. Or, that you’re finding it harder to focus on activities. Are you noticing any other changes as well? If you’ve been experiencing these symptoms for a couple of weeks or longer, see your doctor. If you have depression, getting diagnosed is vital. Treatment may relieve your symptoms and help you regain your enjoyment of life.
You Don’t Need to Suffer with Depression
The most important thing to understand about senior depression is that it’s a treatable medical condition, not a sign of aging. If you or a loved one notice changes that might be due to depression, see a doctor. There are many effective treatments for depression, suitable for people of any age.