Ageing and depression: Do they go hand-in-hand?

Ageing and depression: Do they go hand-in-hand?

While depression is relatively common in older adults, it is not a normal part of ageing. Sure, it is not unusual to feel down every once in a while, but if these feelings linger for weeks or months, you may be experiencing depression.

What is depression?

Clinical depression is a serious mood disorder. It is a true and treatable medical condition. Having depression is not the same as experiencing the occasional “blues” or the normal emotions we go through when grieving the loss of a loved one. Someone who is depressed has feelings of sadness or anxiety that last for weeks at a time – it affects the way they feel, think and act.

Ageing and depression: Do they go hand-in-hand?

How common is depression in older people?

Older adults are at an increased risk for developing depression, especially if they have other medical conditions such as heart disease or cancer. Those who had depression when they were younger are also at greater risk of developing depression in old age. The good news is that the majority of older adults are not depressed. It is estimated that between 1% and 5% of older people living in the community suffer from major depression. This figure rises to 11.5% in hospitalised patients and 13.5% in those requiring home healthcare. Unfortunately, depression in older adults is undertreated with only about 10% of those affected getting treatment, according to an American study.


What is unique about depression in older adults?

Depression in older people presents itself differently from depression in younger populations. In older adults, depression is often accompanied by other health conditions and disabilities. It is frequently misdiagnosed and undertreated. Doctors and patients alike tend to view depression as a natural reaction to illness or life changes and not as something to be treated. This is unfortunate as depression in older adults is linked to a higher risk of cardiac diseases and of death from illness. Depression also hampers older people’s ability to rehabilitate from illness. Furthermore, depression raises the risk of suicide, especially in older white men. The suicide rate in people ages 80 to 84 is more than twice that of the general population. For these reasons it is important to have an older adult you are concerned about evaluated, even in the case of mild depression.

Ageing and depression: Do they go hand-in-hand?

What are some of the warning signs of depression in older people?

Older people may not display the obvious symptoms of depression. Instead, be on the lookout for:

  • Feelings of tiredness
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability or grumpiness
  • Confusion
  • Inability to pay attention
  • Loss of enjoyment
  • Slower movement
  • Changes in weight or appetite
  • Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, or guilt
  • Aches and pains
  • Suicidal thoughts


How to get help

Various treatments for depression are available, including medicine and psychotherapy. Often a combination of treatments is used. The choice of treatment will be influenced by the type and severity of depression symptoms, past treatments, and overall health, among other things.

If you suspect that you or a loved one may be suffering from depression, it is vital to seek help as soon as possible. Make an appointment with a healthcare provider to be diagnosed and treated.

In case of a crisis, you can call the suicide crisis helpline at 0800 567 567 or visit your nearest emergency room.

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