Depression affects more than 19 million Americans every year. Although depression is not a normal part of the aging process, more than two million of the 34 million Americans 65 and older suffer from some form of it.
The likelihood of depression increases when someone has a chronic illness like Alzheimer’s disease or cancer, or if they experience a life event that commonly occurs as people age (e.g. the loss of a loved one). Grieving from a loss can often feel like a roller coaster with good days and bad days.
Sadness lasting more than two weeks could be a sign of depression. However, it may sometimes be undiagnosed or misdiagnosed in some older adults because sadness is not their main symptom. Identifying the signs is the first step to getting them the help they need. Below are signs and symptoms to look out for:
- Loss of interest in socializing or hobbies. Someone who has always been the life of the party or was continually engaged in a hobby, but now shows no interest in socializing, could be suffering from the early signs of dementia or depression. Social isolation can also be the cause. ElderServe offers free programs to help those who are experiencing social isolation.
- Weight loss/gain. Often, people suffering from depression will turn to food as a source of comfort. Unfortunately, this can often cause weight gain. Someone might also lose weight because they have lost an interest in food.
- Sleep disturbances. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the relationship between sleep deprivation and depression is complex. Sometimes, depression is caused by lack of sleep. In other instances, sleepless nights may be a result of living in a depressive state. Sleeping too much may also signal depression.
- Sadness or feelings of despair. We all occasionally experience feelings of sadness in our lives. However, constantly feeling down and unhappy could be a sign of something more. As someone ages, they go through many changes. It’s normal to feel uneasy or sad about the changes. However, after adjusting, many older adults feel well again.
- Fixation on death or suicide. Adverse or traumatic life events in combination with depression may lead to suicide or suicidal behaviors. If an older adult shows an increased interest in death or displays suicidal behaviors, seek professional help immediately.
If you suspect your loved one is depressed, talk to a doctor. Offer them understanding and gently encourage them to join you for walks or other activities. Depression is treatable, and you’ll find more resources and tips in this packet.