Common Causes Of Depression In Older Adults

Posted on December 23, 2022

isolated older adult struggling with depression

Feeling sad or down every once in a while is a normal part of life, and it can happen to anyone. However, older adults have a higher risk of experiencing clinical depression. In fact, studies estimate that greater than 1 in 10 older people are affected, and that rises to over 3 in 10 if they are living in residential senior care.

What Is Depression?

Depression is a serious mood disorder that affects the way people feel, act, and think. Older people and their families sometimes think that depression symptoms are “normal” reactions to life stresses, losses, or the aging process, but they are not. Depression in older adults disrupts every aspect of their daily life — energy level, sleep habits, appetite, work, relationships, and hobbies — and, when left untreated, it can even lead to more physical or mental health problems.

Depression may be hard to recognize because often older people have different symptoms, and are sometimes not willing to talk about their feelings. This might be because of stigmas around mental health, or because they do not want to admit that they are not coping well by themselves. Instead of general sadness, depression may manifest more as a numbness or a lack of interest in daily activities.

What Causes Depression?

There are many things that can increase the risk of depression. For older adults, medical conditions or changes in the brain can affect mood, major life events (bad medical news, a loved one’s death), stress, loneliness, lack of physical activity, or functional limitations. Some become depressed with no apparent cause.

Depressions and Older Adults

Social isolation or loneliness is probably the number one contributing factor to depression in older people. As people age, they generally spend more time alone, losing the social connections they had built over the years. Most have children who are busy with families of their own, and their friends have moved away or passed on. They have the classic “empty nest,” and often an empty heart. Medical issues like declining health, eyesight, or mobility may limit their opportunities to go out and socialize, keeping them at home. As a result, they feel isolated from their immediate family and close friends. Losing their social support systems because of death, retirement, or relocation makes it harder to deal with depression.

Retirement can also trigger depression. Many seniors no longer get out of the house daily and do not see their work friends. The level of financial insecurity that comes along with retirement causes stress and can also help trigger depression.

Some older adults experience depression as a psychological reaction to illness or declining health. Many age related ailments impact quality of life and make day-to-day living a challenge. Many prescription medications that older adults use list depression as a common side effect.

Losing mobility due to joint pain, stiff muscles, or arthritis can be a significant cause of depression. When seniors can’t be mobile enough to take part in activities they once enjoyed they end up feeling sad and isolated. If their physical issues are severe enough that they cannot accomplish their day-to-day activities without help they may feel a loss of dignity, freedom, or independence, and believe they are becoming a burden on those who care for them. They may lose their sense of purpose.

Older people experience more frequent losses as they get older — spouses, family members, close friends, and longtime pets. Some seniors cope well, but for others, these repeated losses can lead to depression. Grieving over losses is normal and healthy, even if the feelings last for a long time. Grief is normal, depression is not.

While depression may not be preventable, there are many ways to lower the risks. If you are an older adult and suspect you may be battling depression, talk to your doctor. Get physically active, eat a healthy diet, get enough sleep, keep in touch with friends and family, or join a support group. Do things that are enjoyable.

Treatment For Depression

Common forms of treatment for depression include psychotherapy, counseling or “talk therapy,” antidepressant medications, or a combination of the two. Complementary health programs like yoga or acupuncture may be used as an adjunct to treatment.

Depression is a serious issue and can lead to suicide — particularly for older adults who may feel that they have nothing left to live for. Seniors often live alone, so having social and family support may improve their mental state. A loved one’s comforting presence can provide a sense of security and assurance, and ease the loneliness. Overcoming depression involves finding new things to enjoy, adapting to change, staying physically and socially active, and connecting to friends, family, and community.

Why Choose Rising Phoenix?

Rising Phoenix Wellness Services is a licensed mental health and substance use disorder Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) in Scottsdale, Arizona. We created our addiction and mental health treatment program to offer a safe, welcoming, and nurturing environment where clients are embraced, not judged, throughout their recovery process.

We offer programming that is based on Integrity, Innovation, Confident Humility, and Mindful Leadership. Our Mission is to help people recognize the unique value of their life and improve their overall health and wellness.

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