What causes depression in the elderly?

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Dr. Aruna V. Josyula, MD
Geriatric Medicine Specialist

Healthcare providers see depression in seniors for a number of reasons related to underlying medical conditions such as stroke, cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. Medications and treatments for some physical conditions can cause depression as well. For other patients, major life changes can contribute to depression, such as the loss of a spouse or friend, moving from the family home or even the act of retiring. Limitations of physical function (including loss of hearing and vision), chronic pain, diagnosis of a serious medical condition and loss of independence are other common factors associated with depression.

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Anthony Cirillo
Geriatric Medicine Specialist

Researchers at the University of Missouri have discovered a series of indicators associated with the development of depression in nursing home residents, according to a study published in the Journal of Gerontological Nursing. Increased verbal aggression, urinary incontinence, increased pain, weight loss, changes in care needs, reduced cognitive ability, and decline in performance of daily living activities, not surprisingly, contributed to depression.

Residents with increased verbal aggression were 69% more likely to be diagnosed with depression. Researchers analyzed 14,000 nursing home residents aged 65 and older who were not diagnosed with depression at the beginning of the study.

I'm not sure if you needed a scientific study to know that all of these things are connected. It's no different than if my 89-year-old mom was faced with not being able to drive any longer. I think that would be grounds for depression, don't you?

Elderly depression can have multiple causes, including chronic pain, medical problems, family dynamics, loss of a loved one, mobility issues, memory loss, frustration over loss of independence and/or trouble adapting to life transitions, such as moving from a house to a nursing home.

Depression can be a sign of a medical problem or a reaction to an illness or be caused by the illness itself. It may be complicated by brain disorders that occur with age, such as Alzheimer’s disease. It also can be a side effect of many medications prescribed for the elderly. Depression often overlaps with other diseases and may get brushed aside during an ensuing workup for other conditions, including arthritis, cancer, dementia, heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, thyroid disease and stroke.

Continue Learning about Depression Causes & Risks

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.