Is depression a normal part of aging?

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Depression is not a normal part of aging, but many older adults suffer from depression. Depression in older adults is caused by many different factors. As people age they may suffer from different illnesses, grief from loss of a spouse and other loved ones, a sense of isolation or loneliness, loss of purpose, and fears or anxieties about financial insecurity and death. It is important that signs of depression in the elderly be identified and treated, and not be attributed to the normal aging process.
Charles J. Sophy, MD
Adolescent Medicine

Depression is a true and treatable medical condition, not a normal part of aging. However older adults are at an increased risk for experiencing depression. If you are concerned about a loved one, offer to go with him or her to see a health care provider to be diagnosed and treated.

Depression is not just having "the blues" or the emotions we feel when grieving the loss of a loved one. It is a true medical condition that is treatable, like diabetes or hypertension. Someone who is depressed has feelings of sadness or anxiety that last for weeks at a time. He or she may also experience:

  • Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness and/or helplessness
  • Irritability, restlessness
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details and making decisions
  • Insomnia, early–morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
  • Overeating or appetite loss
  • Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts
  • Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not get better, even with treatment              

How is Depression Different for Older Adults?

  • Older adults are at increased risk. We know that about 80% of older adults have at least one chronic health condition, and 50% have two or more. Depression is more common in people who also have other illnesses (such as heart disease or cancer) or whose function becomes limited.
  • Older adults are often misdiagnosed and undertreated. Healthcare providers may mistake an older adult's symptoms of depression as just a natural reaction to illness or the life changes that may occur as we age, and therefore not see the depression as something to be treated. Older adults themselves often share this belief and do not seek help because they don't understand that they could feel better with appropriate treatment.

How Do I Find Help?

Most older adults see an improvement in their symptoms when treated with anti-depression drugs, psychotherapy, or a combination of both. If you are concerned about a loved one being depressed, offer to go with him or her to see a health care provider to be diagnosed and treated. If you or someone you care about is in crisis, please seek help immediately by calling 911 or visit a nearby emergency department or your health care provider's office.

    Depressive disorder is not a normal part of aging. Emotional experiences of sadness, grief, response to loss, and temporary "blue" moods are normal. Persistent depression that interferes significantly with ability to function is not. This contributes to low rates of diagnosis and treatment in older adults. Depression can and should be treated when it occurs at the same time as other medical illnesses. Untreated depression can delay recovery or worsen the outcome of these other illnesses.

    This answer is based on source information from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

    Continue Learning about Depression

    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.