It’s Not Just “Getting Old” – Depression in Older Adults

May is Mental Health Awareness month, and the National Institute on Aging, a part of the National Institutes of Health cautions that, “Depression is a common problem among older adults, but it is NOT a normal part of aging.” This year, the theme is “you are not alone,” and friends, family and caretakers of older adults can support them by learning more about the issue. Understanding the symptoms, some potential causes, side effects of medication, and beneficial treatments are critical to supporting our loved ones who may be suffering needlessly.

Hiding in Plain Sight – Disguised Symptoms

As people age, their energy, sleep, attention span, appetite and other factors evolve. This may be a natural progression, or they may be key indicators that someone is suffering from a mental health challenge. According to the National Institutes of Mental Health, physical symptoms include “chronic joint pain, limb pain, back pain, gastrointestinal problems, tiredness, sleep disturbances, psychomotor activity changes, and appetite changes.” The Harvard Health Blog also notes that “depression can … impair your attention and memory, as well as your information processing and decision-making skills.” If an older person is showing these symptoms, they should have their mental health evaluated for possible treatment.

Potential Causes

Depression is a complicated condition, and it has a variety of causes. According to the Mayo Clinic, depression can be a chemical imbalance in the brain brought on by situations, genetics, hormones, other medications and a variety of additional factors. Older adults are particularly at risk for some situational causes such as grief, isolation, and physical pain. Aging itself can be a difficult transition for some people to accept. If an older adult is going through a potential trigger for depression, it’s important to monitor their mental health for signs of depression.

Side effects of Medication

Medications seem to be an inevitable part of the aging process. Whether it’s treatment for another condition that has been known to cause depression (e.g. beta-blockers and Parkinson’s medication), or side effects of anti-depressant medications themselves (e.g. sedation), an older adult taking medication should be confirming the potential side effects of their prescriptions, and advising their provider of all medications being taken. Today’s Geriatric Medicine notes that older adults have diminished function of some organs and their immune system, so they need to be particularly cautious about medication.

Beneficial Treatment

In addition to medication, there are excellent therapies that can treat depression. Individual and group counseling can have a significant effect on depression as well as introduce an additional trained professional to monitor the situation. Exercise, sunlight, and vitamin D have been shown to help alleviate depression as well. For serious cases, Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, Electroconvulsive Therapy and hospitalization are options. If a person is suffering from depression, they should confer with their medical provider about options and referrals for treatment.

At CarePlus, our staff are trained to recognize the symptoms of depression, and to support aging adults with medication reminders, meals, exercise, and their healthcare appointments. To get started, call us today at 301-740-8870 or email us at to discuss your needs.