Depression in Older Adults

By Brenda Jones, E-MDT Coordinator at Elder Law of Michigan

Depression affects millions of adults 65 years and older, reports the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI), but the National Institute on Aging (NIA) clarifies it is not a normal part of aging. Depression is more than just feeling sad, it affects how you think, sleep, eat, and work. As we age, important life changes occur, like the loss of a loved one/friend, adjustments in financial security due to retirement, serious illness, loss of independence, and social isolation (loss of social connections tied to work). These changes can leave seniors feeling sad or anxious.

Many seniors recover their emotional balance after a period of adjustment, but for some depression becomes persistent. The NIA states depression in older adults may be difficult to diagnose because their symptoms don’t present the same as in younger individuals. In their Depression Fact Sheet, NAMI explains how depression in older adults may be mistaken for signs of dementia, Alzheimer’s, arthritis, or various other clinical maladies. Some seniors may be reluctant to acknowledge that they have persistent feelings of severe sadness.

In order to address the issues of depression in older adults we must be able to recognize it. An article by the National Institute of Health, Depression and Older Adults, lists some of the most common persistent symptoms of depression:

  • Sadness, anxiety or apathy (emptiness)
  • Feeling hopeless, guilty, worthless or helpless
  • Decreased energy, fatigue
  • Eating more or less than normal
  • Memory problems, confusion
  • Vague complaints of pain
  • Delusions, hallucinations
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Insomnia or oversleeping
  • Neglecting personal hygiene

Feeling engaged is an important part of overcoming depression reports HelpGuide. Instead of focusing on the things you have lost, try to focus on the abilities, loved ones, etc. that you still have. HelpGuide highlights that the human brain continues to evolve throughout our lifespan. They discuss how learning new skills, changing your lifestyle, or trying new activities can help you recover from a period of depression. Here are some suggestions from HelpGuide to keep you engaged.

  • Learn something new- take a class, pick up a new hobby
  • Develop new social networks- get involved in a community center, senior group
  • Travel- tour groups, day trips with friends
  • Adopt healthier habits (eating, sleeping, exercise)
  • Stay connected with family, friends (social media, e-mail, phone)
  • Volunteer- helping others is one of the best ways to feel better about yourself and extend your social networks in the process. Check out this list of organizations with great volunteer opportunities.

There are things you can do to minimize the risk and effects of depression. Small steps can make a big difference in how you feel. If you or a loved one is suffering from persistent depression, know when to seek professional help. Feeling better takes time, but it can happen. If you would like to learn more check out the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) or call 1-866-615-6464, or 1-866-415-8051 TTY. If you are thinking of harming yourself, please talk to someone! You can speak with someone at any time through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800 273-8255, or 1-800-799-4889 TTY.

Brenda Jones is an Enhanced Multidisciplinary Team (E-MDT) Coordinator at Elder Law of Michigan and has been a member of the Elder Law of Michigan team since December 2019. As an E-MDT Coordinator at Elder Law of Michigan, Brenda works to develop an enhanced team of specialists and community members to address the issues of elder abuse/financial exploitation in the rural communities of Chippewa, Luce, and Mackinac counties in the Eastern Upper Peninsula of Michigan.