There is no disputing that with age, the odds increase for developing health issues. Maybe it’s arthritis or eye conditions causing impaired vision. These can all be part of living longer; however, that is not the case with depression. A common misconception about depression is that it is a normal part of aging, with 58% of people aged 65 and above believing that it is “normal” for people to get depressed as they grow older.

Depression, a type of mood disorder, is the most prevalent mental health problem among older adults. More than two million of the 34 million Americans age 65 and older suffer from some form of depression. Here are some reasons why, and some alarming facts about treatment.

  • Symptoms of clinical depression can be triggered by other chronic illnesses common in later life, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, cancer and arthritis.
  • One-third of widows/widowers meet criteria for depression in the first month after the death of their spouse, and half of these individuals remain clinically depressed after one year.
  • Older patients with symptoms of depression have roughly 50% higher healthcare costs than non-depressed seniors, and because of the higher cost, many do not seek treatment.
  • Depression is a significant predictor of suicide in elderly Americans.

The lack of recognition of depression as an illness by the elderly themselves makes it that much more important for those of us who are or who will take care of older loved ones to be knowledgeable about this subject. In addition to those outlined in Article 1, the following mental health symptoms may also appear in the elderly:

  • Sadness, discouragement, crying
  • Anxiety, panic attacks, brooding, irritability
  • Say they feel sad, blue, depressed, low, nothing is fun, down in the dumps
  • Loss of ability to experience pleasure
  • Withdrawal from usual activities
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Feelings of guilt, including self-reproach for minor failings
  • Delusions (false fixed beliefs that are characteristic of “psychotic” depression)
  • Hallucinations (false sensory experiences characteristic of “psychotic” depression)
  • Pacing, wringing their hands, pulling or rubbing their hair, body, or clothing
  • Believing they have cancer or some other serious illness when they don’t (called somatic delusions)

Fortunately, clinical depression is a very treatable illness. More than 80% of all people suffering from depression, regardless of age, can be successfully treated with medication, psychotherapy or a combination of both.

Sources: Mental Health America, The National Alliance on Mental Health