Is Depression In Seniors Different Than In Other Age Groups?

by Lisa Conway

There are more than 54 million people over the age of the 65 in the United States, according to the US Census Bureau. With today’s heightened awareness of mental health, I am frequently asked if depression is different for our elderly population. 

Depression is one of the most common chronic disorders in the general population. The telltale signs can include tearfulness, changes in appetite or sleep, feelings of hopelessness and isolating (withdrawing from activities). In seniors, depression can be complicated by the development of cognitive impairment.

Depression in people over 65 is called “late life depression” –and is often misdiagnosed. Senior sufferers are less likely to have a family history of depression and symptoms can be different. People with late life depression may exhibit additional symptoms of apathy, weariness, guilt, anger and fearfulness.  Physical symptoms are also more common, including a disheveled appearance, digestive or bowel irregularities, slowed or decreased speech and diminished sexual interest. 

Our seniors often face multiple “depressing” events in later life, struggling to adjust to retirement, relocation, social isolation, or the death of friends and loved ones. 

Medication reactions can also trigger depressive symptoms. A thorough review of prescribed drugs is one more avenue to explore when searching for the cause of depression. Other medical diagnoses may also provide clues. Seniors diagnosed with mild dementia may become depressed when experiencing impaired concentration and reduced verbal ability. To complicate matters, symptoms of depression and cognitive impairment in seniors often present themselves simultaneously –leading to misdiagnosis. A geriatric specialist who understands this parallel phenomenon will seek to rule out depression before treating someone for dementia.   

Join me on May 13 at One Senior Place in Viera for a discussion on senior mental health. And if you or a loved one are experiencing symptoms of depression — see your doctor. An appropriate treatment plan may be the start of brighter days ahead. 

One Senior Place is a marketplace for resources and provider of information, advice, care and on-site services for seniors and their families. Questions for this column are answered by professionals in nursing, social work, care management and in-home care. Send questions to, call 321-751-6771 or visit One Senior Place, The Experts in Aging. “Nurse Lisa” Conway is an RN, and a Certified Care Manager for Senior Partner Care Services, Viera.