Depression in Older Adults and the Elderly, One of the Biggest Issues of Today’s Health

depression photo -

In the past month of April 2015, published an article about older adults and the elderly, by Lawrence Robinson, Melinda Smith, M.A. and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D. As well, institutions like UNAM (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México) are undergoing with research regarding the same subject. Depression  in older adults and the elderly. 

This article is of important content since it deals with one of the biggest issues of today´s health. If you read the studies, the authors coincide and explain that changes that come in later life, such as retirement, the passing of loved ones, increased isolation or medical problems amongst others, can lead to depression.

Depression prevents people in general from enjoying life like they used to, however, its effects go far beyond attitude or humor. It also influences energy, sleep, hunger, and physical health. However, depression is not an inevitable part of aging, and there are many steps that can be taken to overcome the symptoms.



Depression: A problem for many older adults and the elderly.

Other research, conducted by the UNAM (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México) say that at least one out of every four older adults present symptoms of depression, due to the loss of their physical or mental capacities or their life change which leads to rejection from their own family members and sometimes to isolation.

The INEGI (National Institute of Statistics and Geography) prognosticates that by 2050 25% of the population in Mexico will be over 65 years of age and men are more prone to suffer from this condition.

If you have lost interest in the activities you used to enjoy, struggle with feelings of helplessness and hopelessness or you find it harder to get through the day, you might be facing symptoms of depression. This is a rather common problem in older adults. The symptoms of depression affect every aspect of life, including every day activities and interest in work, hobbies, and relationships. Unfortunately, many depressed seniors fail to recognize the symptoms of depression, or don’t take the steps to get the help they need.

There are numerous reasons for depression in older adults and the elderly, often overlooked:

  • You may assume you have good reason to be down or that depression is just part of aging.
  • You may be isolated, which in itself can lead to depression, with few people around to notice your distress.
  • You may not realize that your physical complaints are signs of depression.
  • You may be reluctant to talk about your feelings or ask for help.


Depression without sadness

While depression and sadness might seem to go hand on hand, many depressed elders claim not to feel sad at all. They may complain, instead, of low motivation, a lack of energy, or physical problems. In fact, physical complaints, such as arthritis pain or worsening headaches, are often the predominant symptom of depression in the elderly.

Older adults who deny feeling sad or depressed may still have major depression. Here are some clues to look for:

Depression clues in older adults

  • Unexplained or aggravated aches and pains
  • Feelings of hopelessness or helplessness
  • Anxiety and worries
  • Memory problems
  • Lack of motivation and energy
  • Slowed movement and speech
  • Irritability
  • Loss of interest in socializing and hobbies
  • Neglecting personal care (skipping meals, forgetting meds, neglecting personal hygiene)

Feeling good as you age

Depression isn’t a sign of weakness or a character flaw. It can happen to anyone, at any age, no matter your background or your previous accomplishments in life. Similarly, physical illness, loss, and the challenges of aging don’t have to keep you down. Whether you’re 18 or 80, you don’t have to live with depression. Senior depression can be treated, and with the right support, treatment, and self-help strategies you can feel better and live a happy and vibrant life.

Causes of depression in older adults and the elderly

As people grow older, they face significant life changes that can put them at risk for depression. Causes and risk factors that contribute to depression in older adults and the elderly include:

Health problems – Illness and incapacity, chronic or severe pain, mental decline; damage to body image due to surgery or disease.

Loneliness and isolation– Living alone, a diminished social circle due to deaths or relocation; decreased mobility due to illness or loss of driving privileges.

Reduced sense of purpose– Feelings of insignificance or loss of identity due to retirement or physical limitations on activities.

Fears – Fear of death or dying; anxiety over financial problems or health issues.

Recent losses– The death of friends, family members, and pets; the loss of a spouse or partner.


Dealing with depression.

Dealing with depression.  photo: TERCERA EDAD

You cannot beat depression through sheer willpower, but you do have some control, even if your depression is severe and stubbornly persistent.

It is a myth to think that after a certain age you can’t learn new skills, try new activities, or make renewed lifestyle changes. The truth is that the human brain never stops changing, so older adults are just as capable as younger people of learning new things and adapting to new ideas. Overcoming depression often involves finding new things you enjoy, learning to adapt to change, staying physically and socially active, and feeling connected to your community and loved ones.

If you’re depressed, you may not want to do anything or see anybody. But isolation and inactivity only make depression worse. The more active you are, physically, mentally, and socially, the better you’ll feel.

Exercise. Physical activity has powerful mood-boosting effects. In fact, research suggests it may be just as effective as antidepressants in relieving depression. The best part is that the benefits come without side effects. Look for small ways you can add more movement to your day: park farther from the store, take the stairs, do light housework, or enjoy a short walk. Even if you’re ill, frail, or disabled, there are many safe exercises you can do to build your strength and boost your mood—even from a chair or wheelchair.

Connect with others, face to face whenever possible. Getting the support you need plays a big role in overcoming depression and keeping it away. On your own, it can be difficult to maintain perspective and sustain the effort required to beat depression. You may not feel like reaching out, but make an effort to connect to others and limit the time you’re alone. If you can’t get out to socialize, invite others to visit you. Keep in touch over the phone or email but most of all remember, it’s never too late to make new friends.

Bring your life into balance. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by stress and the pressures of daily life, it may be time to learn new emotional management and emotional intelligence skills. (Watch the short video clip and consider following “Helpguide’s free Bring Your Life Into Balance toolkit”)

Tips to combat and prevent depression in older adults

Get enough sleep. When you don’t get enough sleep, your depression symptoms can be worse. Aim for somewhere between 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night.

Participate in activities you enjoy. Pursue whatever hobbies or pastimes bring or used to bring you joy.

Volunteer your time. Helping others is one of the best ways to feel better about yourself and expand your social network.

Take care of a pet. A pet can keep you company, and walking a dog, for example, can be good exercise for you and a great way to meet people.

Learn a new skill. Pick something that you’ve always wanted to learn, or that sparks your imagination and creativity.

Create opportunities to laugh. Laughter provides a mood boost, so swap humorous stories and jokes with your loved ones, watch a comedy, or read a funny book.

Maintain a healthy diet. Avoid eating too much sugar and junk food. Choose healthy foods that provide nourishment and energy, and take a daily multivitamin.



  • Lawrence Robinson, Melinda Smith, M.A. and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D.
  • Depresión en el Adulto Mayor  by Margarita Becerra Pino Psychiatrist and  Psychogeriatric Profesor at the Mental Health Department of Psychiatry “Facultad de Medicina UNAM”

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