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Depression in Older Adults - Topic Overview

What is depression in older adults?

Depression is an illness that causes you to feel sad and hopeless much of the time. It is different from normal feelings of sadness, grief, or low energy.

Some people think that depression is normal with age. But it's not. Older adults may go through major life changes or challenges that trigger depression. Such things as losing a spouse, living with a long-term health problem, or leaving a home you've lived in for many years are more common among older adults than others.

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Under the Affordable Care Act, many health insurance plans will cover preventive mental health services, including screening tests for depression and alcohol misuse, at no cost to you. Learn more.

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Like others who experience a life change, older adults may feel sad and may grieve and recover, or they may develop depression.

Some older adults are more likely to be depressed than others. Those who are more likely include:

  • Older women.
  • Those who are not married or who have lost their partners.
  • Those who don't have friends or family who can support them.
  • Those who have had a medical problem such as a heart attack, stroke, or broken hip or who have chronic pain.
  • Those who drink too much alcohol.

Why is depression a concern in older adults?

In older adults, untreated depression can last for years. It can lead to or make worse other problems in physical and mental health and in relationships with others. It also makes suicide more likely. Older Americans have the highest suicide rate of any age group, and depression is often linked to the suicide. Older men have the highest rate of suicide of any group.

Treatment can help depression and help you enjoy your life more. It also makes suicide less likely and may help older adults deal better with long-term health problems.

Do older adults have different symptoms than others who have depression?

Common symptoms of depression, such as sadness and loss of interest, occur in older adults just as they do in younger adults. But older adults also may:

  • Feel confused or forgetful.
  • Stop seeing friends and doing things.
  • Have a hard time sleeping.
  • Not feel like eating.

How is depression diagnosed?

Depression often is missed in older adults.

  • People may think that sadness or depression is part of aging, so they don't take it seriously.
  • The symptoms of depression in older adults are sometimes like symptoms of other diseases, so depression may not be recognized. For example, a family member or doctor could mistake forgetting things as a symptom of dementia rather than depression. But people can have both.
  • Many older adults take many medicines, and certain medicines may cause depression.
  • Older adults may not seek help for depression, because they sometimes consider it a character flaw or weakness. They may blame themselves for the problem or be too embarrassed to seek help. They may not admit to feeling sad.
  • The cost of doctor visits and treatment can prevent older adults from seeking help for depression.
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