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How To Recognise the Signs of Depression in Older People

Depression in older people is surprisingly common, although it does not often feature in news reports. Whilst many people do experience depression as they grow older, it is certainly not inevitable, and recognising the signs and symptoms can be the first step towards finding the support and treatment you need.

depression in older people

If you are having feelings of hopelessness or have recently lost interest in the things you used to enjoy, you may be depressed but not realise it. Sometimes depression can cause physical complaints too. Fortunately, there are many ways of helping older people who are struggling with depression. Once you recognise the problem you can take steps towards feeling happy and healthy again.

Signs and Symptoms of Depression

Depression in older people can cause them to lose interest in socialising or in activities they used to enjoy. They may feel sad, despairing, or helpless. Physical signs can include weight loss and unexplained pain. Sometimes sleep is disturbed or the older person has problems falling asleep. In turn, this can cause increased sleepiness during the day.

People who are depressed can also lack energy and motivation and have slower speech and movement and problems with their memory. Sometimes this can lead to neglecting their personal appearance or hygiene and sometimes using alcohol or other drugs to help them cope.

Causes of Depression

Many of the life changes experienced by older people can enhance the risk of depression. These include disability and illness, decline in mental functions and severe or chronic pain. People who live alone can often feel isolated and lonely, and if they also have limited mobility, this can make the problem worse. Some older people feel that their life no longer has any purpose, and the death of people close to them can also make depression more likely. They may be anxious about their health, death or financial problems.

Medical Conditions and Depression

Some medical conditions are responsible for causing depression. These include cancer, stroke, diabetes and heart disease. Diseases such as Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia can also be linked with depression, as can thyroid disorders, lupus and vitamin B12 deficiency.


If you recognise that you may be affected, there are ways of helping yourself to overcome depression. It is important to find ways of starting to do the things you enjoy, even if the thought of going out is uncomfortable. Social engagement can help, so try to meet people face to face when you can, even if it is only going to the shops or having your hair done.

Eating a healthy diet and staying physically active can also help to boost your mood. Getting out in the sunlight is important for boosting serotonin levels, so try to be outside for at least fifteen minutes a day.

If you are not able to improve your situation, you may need professional help or help from someone close to you.

Depression in older people in nursing homes is not uncommon. If someone you care for is depressed, offering emotional support can help. You can also try to encourage them to eat healthily, get out more and to comply with any medical advice they are given.

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