For many older adults, depression may simply be seen as a “natural” part of the aging process, but growing older and becoming depressed do not have to be synonymous.
Because depression may present itself differently in the senior population — and because many people expect to slow down and have more health problems as they age — it’s common for seniors and loved ones not to recognize the condition for what it is, until significant time has passed.
Unfortunately, this lack of recognition often leads to prolonged suffering, and delayed treatment for the depressed individuals.
If you’re an older adult unknowingly suffering from depression, you are not alone. To help yourself, and the loved ones in your life, learn to recognize depression in the elderly years, familiarize yourself with these six common signs of senior depression:
1. Headaches, body aches, and other pains
For seniors who may be experiencing other physical health problems, the presence of general aches and pains may not seem cause for concern, when evaluating their mental health. Oftentimes, however, bodily pains are one of the first signs of senior depression.
Areas commonly afflicted include the back, stomach, head, shoulders, and chest. While these pains may also be a side effect of other underlying health issues, take extra care when they come on suddenly, and are persistent. For a complete evaluation, and to rule out other possible causes, consult with your doctor.
2. Neglecting hygiene and self-care
Many aging adults who struggle with depression have a difficult time making self-care a priority. Eating and exercising, along with bathing, taking medications and other general hygiene practices, begin to occur less frequently. It then falls more and more to loved ones and caregivers to ensure these individuals are being properly taken care of.
If you’re a senior lacking motivation to take proper care of yourself, consider evaluating your life for other signs of depression, and seeking the necessary treatment.
3. Increased memory loss
As we age, it typically becomes more difficult to remember details. But if you are an otherwise-healthy senior suffering from a recent increase in memory loss, depression may be to blame. Depression in older adults, particularly when coupled with other mental illnesses such as anxiety, makes it difficult for the brain to function at full capacity, and to recall specific dates and memories.
If your concentration and memory seem negatively impacted by your depression, talk with your team about possible medications and approaches to treatment.
4. Fixation on death, dying, and suicidal thoughts
While suicidal tendencies are commonly found in depressed individuals of all ages, seniors struggling with depression often develop an obsessive fixation on death and dying.
While death is an inevitable part of growing older, depressed adults are often unable to focus their thoughts on anything else. If you find yourself frequently contemplating life and how soon it may end at any moment, you may be suffering from senior depression.
5. Isolating and withdrawing from loved ones
Isolation, while also a universally common sign of depression, is particularly dangerous in the senior population. As life progresses, many seniors may naturally lead more isolated lives due to a number of circumstances: death of a spouse, long-distance relationships with children and family, retirement, friends moving to different parts of the country, etc. These circumstances, in and of themselves, may help to trigger depression in seniors.
Additionally, seniors choosing to live alone, or in communities isolated from their loved ones, may subconsciously be reacting to their depression. Take notice of instances of loneliness and isolation in your life, and in the lives of loved ones, as it may be an outward manifestation of larger problems.
6. Insomnia, disrupted sleep, and sleeping to avoid
Another common sign of depression in people as they age are changes in otherwise-established sleeping patterns. Seniors struggling with depression often suffer from insomnia or frequently experience disrupted, poor-quality sleep. Many others consistently find themselves oversleeping, often turning to sleep as a coping mechanism or to avoid the outside world.
If you experience changes to your sleeping patterns that are not affected by other health problems, depression may be the root cause.