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Depression in Older Adults - Topic Overview

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.

If your doctor thinks you are depressed, he or she will ask you questions about your health and feelings. This is called a mental health assessment. Your doctor also may:

If you think you have depression, read this information or take this short quiz calculator.gif to check your symptoms.

How is depression treated in older adults?

As in younger adults, depression in older adults is treated with medicine, counseling, therapy, or a combination. Treatment usually works, and treatment for depression also may help other medical problems that older adults have. Older adults may benefit from early, continuing, and long-term treatment.

Older adults may have special concerns when using medicine.

  • Some of the medicines used for depression may not be good choices because they may interact with medicine being taken for other health problems.
  • The side effects of medicines may be more severe.
  • Some antidepressants may take longer to start working in older adults than they do in younger adults.
  • Older adults may need medicine for a longer amount of time than younger adults.

Many older adults don't take all the medicines they need for depression. A caregiver or family member may need to help the person remember to take the medicines.

Depression often occurs with dementia, which is a loss of mental skills that affects daily life. Medicines for depression may help older adults with dementia.

What can an older adult do about depression?

Older adults can be aware of how they are changing as they age and keep a healthy attitude. Remember that getting older is a natural part of life. If you take good care of your body and learn positive ways to deal with stress, you can slow down or even prevent problems that often come with getting older.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: January 11, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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