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For More Information

For more information about depression in older adults, call toll-free 877–654–7850. Or visit the Geriatric Mental Health Foundation Web site at www.gmhfonline.org




Just like heart disease, depression is physically debilitating, emotionally draining—often, even silent. But unlike heart disease, most people are hesitant to acknowledge depression, or take the necessary steps to improve their own, or a loved one’s, quality of life. Losing heart and hope can make existing health problems worse. But, fortunately, help exists.

The Geriatric Mental Health Foundation provides information about late-life depression and other mental illnesses and provides a listing of geriatric psychiatrists throughout the country.

Many people experience depressed moods at some point in their lives. But when these experiences last more than two weeks, it may be depression, an actual medical condition.

Interestingly, older people experience the symptoms of depression differently than others. They may complain about vague aches and pains, become demanding, or unwilling to do things they once found enjoyable. Other signs of late-life depression include:

  • Changes in sleep patterns (sleeping too much or too little)
  • Changes in appetite (weight loss or gain)
  • Lack of energy or motivation
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Noticeable restlessness or slow movement
  • Recurring thoughts of death or suicide
  • Changes in sex drive
  • Irritability and intolerance
  • Memory problems and confusion
  • Withdrawal from social situations

Late-life depression tends to last longer than depression in younger people, and may raise a person’s risk for other serious health problems, increase the severity of existing medical conditions, or even provoke premature death. So if you, or someone you care about, is experiencing any of the above symptoms, it is critical to seek help as soon as possible.

The onset of late-life depression can be attributed to different factors, such as changes in the brain, major life changes, or chronic illness. Certain health conditions are also often associated with the development of depression, including heart disease, stroke, hip fracture, bypass surgery, and macular degeneration. Other risk factors include:

  • Changes in medications or newly prescribed medications for other illnesses
  • Recent loss of a loved one
  • Presence of another illness
  • Severe and chronic pain
  • Living alone and feeling socially isolated
  • Hormonal changes
  • Family history of depression
  • Alcohol or drug abuse or misuse

It may come as a surprise that depression is not a typical part of aging. It can, and should, be treated by a medical professional just like any other illness. In fact, there are many safe, effective treatments. With proper care, most patients will achieve a better quality of life.

The most common treatments are medication and psychotherapy (talk therapy). Medication is often necessary to balance brain chemistry. Psychotherapy and counseling can help people understand what they are feeling and make healthy lifestyle choices. Each person is unique and will require analysis by a medical professional to determine which treatments will be most beneficial.

In addition to seeking professional medical help, older adults can take steps to enhance their treatment:

  • Talk with those who have had similar experiences
  • Ask for support from a good friend or family member
  • Spend time with enjoyable company
  • Take life one day at a time
  • Identify life problems
  • Identify pleasant activities and routines
  • Eat healthy foods
  • Incorporate exercise into a daily routine



(c) 2007 Geriatric Mental Health Foundation 7910 Woodmont Avenue, Ste 1050 Bethesda, MD 20814