Depression Among Elderly Adults Found to be More Severe

If social media were a true reflection of people’s lives, one could easily believe that everyone is having a perfectly lovely summer, happily surrounded by friends and family at a cottage by the lake or at the seaside.  But for many, especially elderly adults, summer days are just as lonely and isolating as the winter.  And new research finds that older adults who develop depression tend to have more severe cases than their younger counterparts. 

A recent Dutch study, out of the VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam, analyzed data on more than 1,000 adults with major depressive disorder ranging in age from 18 to 88 over a period of two years.  According to a report by Reuters Health News, seniors over the age of 70 were between 2 and 3 times more likely to still have the same diagnosis after two years and to have experienced the same symptoms during that time. 

Researchers found that while elderly adults are less likely to develop major depression than adults between 45 and 65, seniors over 70 took longer to achieve an abatement in symptoms.  It is believed that the aging brain may take longer to recover from mental illness because it has less plasticity due to changes in the body over time.  Seniors also have a greater risk for damage to blood vessels in the brain.

Older adults can help prevent depression by getting regular exercise, eating a healthy diet and staying socially connected with their community.   Recognizing the signs and symptoms of depression is also important for early diagnosis and treatment.  Clinical depression is a real illness and not a normal part of aging but the loss of a loved one or other medical problems can lead to depression.  Some medications can also have side effects that contribute to depression.

Common Symptoms of Depression in Older Adults

  • Trouble sleeping
  • Persistent sad, anxious or empty mood
  • Hopelessness, guilt or feeling of worthlessness
  • Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
  • Fatigue, decreased energy
  • Irritability, restlessness
  • Moving or talking more slowly
  • Confusion or attention problems
  • Aches and pains without a clear cause
  • Thoughts of suicide

Source:  National Institute on Aging

Major depression interferes with one’s ability to work, sleep, eat, study and generally enjoy life. In elderly adults depressive disorders can appear to be dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.  If you or a loved one experiences persistent symptoms of depression, seek medical help immediately.