What is Depression in the Elderly?

Old age and mental illness often go hand in hand, although seniors do not need to develop depression and other conditions. Cognitive and behavioral health counseling can help.

Depression in the Elderly

Depression in the Elderly in Brief

Every person feels low or sad occasionally. Sadness is a normal human emotion. Depression is different. It reaches beyond feeling uneasy or stressed. Depression is a severe mood disorder that can affect every aspect of an older person’s life. Clinical depression impacts a senior’s thoughts, feelings, and actions. In short, it can limit their quality of life during their entire retirement – a time seniors should enjoy.

Along with anxiety, depression is one of the seniors’ most common mental health disorders. Experts estimate that this mental health condition might affect more than six million Americans over 65. But only about one in ten of them receive treatment. Left untreated, depression in the elderly can have serious consequences, including suicidal thoughts. 

Senior Depression Signs & Symptoms

Depression in the elderly is not always easy to distinguish. Seniors may show different signs and symptoms from children with depression and depressed adults. As a layperson, like a family member, friend, or other loved one, it is easy to confuse depression with the side effects of medications. In older people, depression can also look like a consequence of other multiple illnesses, which are sometimes chronic.

Signs and symptoms of depression in older people include physical, behavioral, and mental aspects. 

Some of the most common signs and symptoms include:

  • Feeling tired and having trouble sleeping
  • Struggling to pay attention to conversations
  • Being confused, grumpy, or irritable
  • Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness and guilt 

Depression may also affect how seniors move. What may seem like a side effect of aging and declining mobility could be a sign of depression in an older person. In some cases, seniors stop participating in activities they used to enjoy. The mental health condition causes them to no longer relish some of their favorite activities.  

Other signs and symptoms include changes in seniors’ dietary habits. They may lose their appetite and start losing weight. Others stop eating healthily and start gaining weight. 

Some seniors with depression start enduring aches and pains rather than seeking medical help. While the medical community encourages primary care physicians to check elderly patients for depression, this mental health condition can be hard to diagnose. Diagnosing depression can be more challenging if the older person suffering from the state tries to disguise their symptoms. 

Causes of Depression in Seniors

Causes of depression can vary widely between seniors. In many cases, they can be traced to changes in physical health, loss, grief, or isolation from social contacts. 

As people grow older, they experience loss and grief more frequently. Losing a spouse for years and often decades causes distress, which can develop into depression. Older people may also start losing friends and other peers. Some suffer badly after losing a pet. Relying upon repeated loss and grief can be challenging without professional support. 

Losing friends in old age may limit seniors’ social circles. Unless older people try to meet new friends and forge new connections, they may become socially isolated. Most medical experts agree that a lack of social contacts can lead to depression and contribute to other mental health conditions. 

During the coronavirus pandemic, seniors were hit especially hard by isolation. Many living in nursing homes or assisted living facilities could not receive visitors for months. With restrictions in place to protect older adults’ physical health, their mental health often suffers. 

Declining physical health is another potential cause of depression in the elderly. The scenario is complex: suffering from difficult medical conditions or even chronic illnesses can lead to depression. At the same time, some of the medications seniors are being prescribed to manage their needs can lead to the development of depression and other conditions, including anxiety. 

Understanding the causes of elderly depression is essential to address more than the symptoms seniors are experiencing. 

Treatment of Depression in Elderly People

It is essential to understand that depression in the elderly is an illness that can be treated, even if the symptoms are severe. Counseling is one of the most effective treatments currently available. 

While each individual is different and responds to other treatment approaches, the treatment process follows similar steps:

Diagnosis: Because the signs and symptoms of depression in the elderly can resemble the side effects of medications, it is vital to make a precise diagnosis. Doctors can use physical exams or lab tests to do that. Asking targeted questions about an older person’s health and personal history will also help determine whether someone is suffering from depression.

Treatment plan: Based on their initial diagnosis, doctors and mental health professionals create a customized treatment plan for the individual client. Some may require medication, but talk therapies like counseling are highly effective for many seniors. Counseling explores the underlying causes of a person’s condition. Once those have been identified clearly, it becomes easier to find coping strategies.

Counseling sessions: Throughout the treatment, counselors work with their clients to develop coping strategies and support their implementation. Some seniors opt for regular counseling; others may see sufficient improvements quickly and stop counseling. 

Treatment review: Counselors will regularly review their approach to see what works for their clients or whether the system needs to be adjusted. As each person with depression experiences their condition differently, their response to treatment will also be unique. 

Effects of Depression in Seniors

Depression in seniors can predispose older people to severe physical health conditions. Suffering from depression can also limit an older person’s ability to recover from physical health conditions. Studies in nursing homes have shown that depression makes a more senior person more likely to die from illnesses that others rehabilitate. 

In addition, there is a strong connection between depression and anxiety and heart disease. Cardiovascular problems may cause these mental health conditions. But depression may also lead to fatalities after a heart attack. 

In short, depression puts a senior’s quality of life at risk. It can endanger their life themselves if left untreated. 

How does TrueCare’s Depression Counseling Help Seniors?

TrueCare’s depression counseling services are available for people of all ages, with numerous counselors specializing in older age mental health care. The platform offers easy and uncomplicated access to the counseling support seniors need. Sessions can be arranged on-demand, and there are no lengthy contract tie-ins. 

Senior depression counseling is available via in-person or telehealth sessions. Telehealth sessions were often the only option older adults had during the coronavirus pandemic. Even though in-person counseling is now back, many still enjoy the convenience of seeing their counselor without having to travel to an office. 

For those who prefer in-person sessions, TrueCare offers several options:

  • Counseling at the counselor’s office
  • In-home counseling
  • Counseling in assisted-living facilities (ALF) or nursing homes

In each case, the chosen mental health professional will start by assessing the client to confirm the diagnosis of depression before commencing treatment. Once a treatment plan has been decided, seniors can combine online and offline counseling. 

Sessions can be scheduled flexibly to accommodate other appointments and commitments. With a nationwide network of experienced and specialized senior depression counselors, TrueCare makes it easy to access the care you need. 

FAQs on Depression in Seniors

Why do seniors struggle with depression? 

There are often several reasons why an older person may suffer from depression. In many cases, these causes can be traced back to declining physical health, repeated experience of loss and bereavement, and growing social isolation. Whilst some of those are naturally connected to aging, depression does not need to be a consequence.

How can I be sure someone suffers from depression?

Only a doctor or mental health professional can make a certain diagnosis of depression. Depression-like symptoms may also be caused by other reasons, including medications or side effects of physical conditions. That is why it is important to confirm a diagnosis before embarking on a course of treatment.

How is depression treated in older people?

Counseling is one of the most effective forms of talk therapy for older people. Some may also require medication, but, in many cases, counseling successfully addresses the causes of depression and teaches clients better ways of coping with or addressing those causes.

My older family member is in a nursing home. How can they access counseling?

TrueCare offers tailored counseling services for assisted living facilities and nursing homes. Those sessions come at no additional cost to the facility or the resident because they are covered by Medicare.  Offering these services in-house makes them easily accessible to residents and improves the overall quality of care in the facility.

How does counseling for seniors work?

Depression counseling for seniors is available online and offline. Sessions can be scheduled flexibly to fit an older person’s lifestyle and other commitments. Platforms like TrueCare offer easy access to senior mental health care specialists nationwide.

About TrueCare™

TrueCare™ is a nationwide Health & Wellness platform for families and businesses providing end-to-end solutions for COVID-19 testing, screening, vaccination, home care, and corporate well-being services.

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