Depression can be difficult to diagnose in older adults because symptoms such as aches, pains and fatigue commonly are dismissed as typical progressions of aging. Depression is a medical condition caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, and it often develops in patients suffering other medical illnesses or injuries.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), older adults have a higher risk for depression — and a higher incidence of misdiagnosis. Depression affects between 1 percent and 5 percent of older adults in general and that number rises to 11.5 percent in older hospital patients and 13.5 percent for elders who require health care services at home, the CDC reports.
Depression can increase risks for heart disease and suicide and makes it harder for older patients to recover from an illness or injury. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reports as many as 3 percent of people over 65 suffer from depression — and the suicide rate is twice as high as other age groups. Depression can be successfully treated with medication and counseling, but caregivers need to recognize the indicators. Here are some signs of depression in the elderly.
Aches and pains. Chronic pain can cause depression, but depression also can cause pain (the CDC says depressed patients are three times as likely to suffer pain regularly than non-depressed older people). Common complaints include backaches, headaches and other pains that persist even after treatment. Depressed seniors are four times more likely than others in their age range to suffer intense, even disabling pain in the back and neck.
Anxiety or sadness that lasts for weeks and has no apparent cause.
Talks about suicide or ways to kill oneself.
Chest pain can be a symptom of depression (other causes such as heart, lung and stomach ailments should be examined first), and depression can increase a person's risk for heart disease.
Digestive problems can include pain in the stomach, nausea, indigestion, diarrhea or constipation.
Fatigue, exhaustion and decreased energy, especially in a person who gets a reasonable amount of sleep or who sleeps too much.
Feelings of hopelessness, guilt and worthlessness.
Irritability, mood swings, inability to enjoy activities, friends, etc.
Loss of interest in hobbies and other previously favorite activities.
Preoccupation with death
Problems with memory, decision-making and maintaining concentration.
Sleep issues — Insomnia not only is a symptom of depression, but also can cause it; conversely sleeping too much can indicate depression.
Slowed speech, blurred vision, dizziness.
Starts giving away belongings, saying goodbyes and preparing for the end of life.
Weight changes up or down, loss of appetite and overeating can indicate depression, especially when accompanied by a lack of energy. The CDC warns that depression has been linked to eating disorders including anorexia or binge eating.