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Elderly Depression Often Unnoticed

Tough to Diagnose

WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD

Claire Hamilton was getting worried about her Aunt Julia. Julia always seemed to have some new excuse to stay home. She had already, months ago, stopped volunteering at a local Head Start program because her arthritis was bothering her. Now Claire found herself on the phone pleading with her aunt to join the family for birthdays and other celebrations. Claire finally went to visit Julia. She found that her aunt had lost weight and appeared tired, and Julia's normally tidy apartment was a mess.

When Claire expressed concern, Julia admitted she'd been thinking a lot about death and said it might be better than going on the way she was.

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Or take Al Cannon: His wife, Betty, was worried by a change in his personality. For 15 years, the couple had enjoyed retirement, traveling, and spending time with their eight grandchildren. Al had been a natural leader -- someone his fellow firefighters had looked to for leadership and support. But now he had become withdrawn, forgetful, and irritable. He no longer seemed to enjoy his favorite foods or activities. He also slept poorly and often awakened as early as 4 a.m., when he would go to the kitchen and make a racket until Betty finally got up to see what he was doing.

Both Julia and Al sought help from their doctors, and each was diagnosed with depression, a disorder that's as common in the elderly as it is in younger people. And both, fortunately, were successfully treated. Without treatment, both would they have risked getting worse physically as well as becoming increasingly despondent and even suicidal.

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