Depression in seniors
It’s normal to feel sad or lonely when you age and lose a loved one, retire or have to downsize and move into a home. However if that sad feeling does not go away after a short length of time, you may be suffering from depression.
Depression affects the whole person including their feelings, thinking and physical health. It is not the same as sadness, people with depression cannot just “get over it”. It is a biological illness caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. It can effect anyone at any age but is often not recognized in older adults.
Seniors often do not complain of feeling down, but rather they express concern about aches and pains, being tired a lot and having little to no appetite and many other health problems. These may be signs of depression.
According to the Mood Disorders Society of Canada some of the signs of depression can include:
• Lack of physical appearance (not showering or dressing in dirty clothes, constantly wearing pajamas).
• Lost of interest in activities
• Sleeping poorly or too much
• Not being social (not answering the door or phone)
• Eating more or less than usual
• Trouble concentrating/remembering things
• Trouble making plans and following through with them
• Seems confused
• Lacks energy
• Feels or acts angry, irritated, sad, agitated or shows little emotion.
• Feels impending doom
• Use of alcohol or drugs
• Upset stomach, phantom pain (including headaches, muscle aches and pains)
• Crying for no reason
• Feelings of guilt
• Talking about suicide
With all of these signs of depression, it is very important to get it treated because it can throw a dark cloud over a seniors well being both emotionally and physically, leading to even further isolation and despair. Depression tends to last longer in the elderly and can compromise the treatment of other conditions and can increase the risk of prolonged disability or early death. Untreated depression can make seniors more vulnerable to developing other serious health concerns such as heart conditions, infections and immune disorders. It can cause anger, irritability and anxiety robbing families of their loved ones company and placing additional burdens on the caregiver.
So why aren’t seniors getting the help they need? Because depression in the elderly can be very hard to recognize, family, friends and doctors often see it as a normal part of the aging process. Many seniors were raised to be self-sufficient and to solve their own problems, they are ashamed to ask for help. Some seniors and maybe even their families don’t know that depression is an illness and that treatment is available.
There are some factors that can increase the risk of depression in seniors such as the presence of other illnesses which compromise your ability to get around and be independent. Some medications or the interaction between medications are associated with depression. Living with chronic pain, living alone, or a family history of depression can increase your risk of developing depression.
Some medical conditions that are associated with depression can include:
• Heart problems including having a stroke
• Low thyroid activity
• A lack of vitamin B12 or folic acid
• Low blood pressure
• Rheumatoid arthritis
So what can you do to get help? Talk to you doctor (this is a very important first step). They will discuss treatment options with you. Getting plenty of exercise can be very beneficial, especially in fresh air and sunshine if possible.
Exercise your mind as well. Along with aging often comes subtle changes in brain functioning. It may not seem as easy to remember things such as names, phone numbers. By doing simple brain games such as chess, computer games, or crossword puzzles, you will challenge your brain to keep learning and stay strong.
Having strong family, friendships and community support, Health Canada reports that more and more seniors are spending time alone which is not good for their mental health. Take the time to consider what you like to do and start small adding one thing at a time. Maybe an art class or volunteering somewhere, join a book club or check out your local community centre for seniors programs.
Eating well plays a big part in a seniors overall health including their mental health. The absence of essential minerals and vitamins is associated with many serious health problems including depression. If you live alone, it may seem to hard or too much to cook for yourself but it is very important to do so. Try looking online for simple easy meals to cook and freezing the leftovers for future use.
Laughter and music can be a great help as well. Laugh lots and listen to upbeat happy music. Singing along is even better for your soul, it can help to sooth anxious nerves and lift your spirit.
For information and referral to mental health services in Ontario contact Mental Health Services Information Ontario toll free at
This is a free confidential service that is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Information about depression and other mental health problems and resources and support available in your community is available from the Canadian Mental Health Association, Ontario
And the Mood Disorders Association of Ontario