Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment for Depression in the Elderly

Depression in the elderly, also called geriatric depression, is a common threat that often does not get the attention it deserves. Much focus on depression is on the younger generations, while depression in elderly people gets misdiagnosed. Sometimes, it is also mistaken for other conditions like dementia.

Depression in Elderly: Statistics

Statistics show that this condition affects about 7 million Americans aged 65 or older [2*] . A study by the Royal College of Psychiatrists shows that one in five older adults staying in a community and two in five adults staying at a care home are affected by depression.

Depression in the elderly is often mistaken for other mental health conditions. Get a diagnosis from an expert at EZCare Clinic.

Common Causes of Depression in the Elderly

Depression causes and risk factors are mostly similar across all ages. Still, there are some unique factors related to older adults, and other general ones have a greater impact on them too. The causes of geriatric depression include:

  • Health problems. As people grow older, the risk of diseases, some of them being chronic, increases. These conditions, including cognitive decline, disability, extended periods of illness, chronic and severe pain, and even some treatment like surgery, can all cause depression.
  • Loneliness. Older people may find themselves increasingly isolated and lonely with a shrinking social circle. It could be due to relocation, the death of their loved ones, or even reduced mobility, which triggers depression.
  • Reduced or lost sense of purpose. Old age could bring a loss of status, especially with retirement and no other roles. Older people are also at a higher risk of having erosion of self-confidence and identity and developing anxiety because of financial insecurity. All these factors can build up depression over time.
  • Recent bereavement. Depression in the elderly after the death of a spouse is common as the remaining spouse has to deal with grief and loneliness. Other deaths, including family members, friends, and pets, can all cause significant stress, and the elderly are less resilient with age.
  • Fears. With advanced age, certain fears increase in intensity which causes significant stress. Fears vary by individuals, and they include fear of abuse, neglect, dying or death, financial issues, and health problems.

Symptoms of Depression in Elderly People

Symptoms of depression in elderly people may be slightly different from general depression symptoms. That is why doctors recommend that older adults should have frequent screening for mental health conditions. If a person has the following symptoms for more than two weeks, they should consider getting medical attention:

  • Feelings of despair and sadness
  • Loss of interest in hobbies and other beloved activities
  • No desire for socializing
  • Sleep problems (either oversleeping, difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, and midday sleepiness)
  • Loss of appetite and weight changes
  • Irritability and grumpiness much of the time
  • Struggling to think clearly, pay attention, and make decisions
  • Loss of energy and motivation
  • Slow speech and movement
  • Suicidal thoughts or even attempts

Mental health professionals at the EZCare Clinic will conduct a comprehensive assessment of depression symptoms.

What Are the Consequences of Depression in the Elderly?

Depression in the elderly harms not just mental but also the general physical health of older adults, including:

  • Increased the risk of cardiac diseases
  • Higher probability of death from illnesses
  • Reduced ability to recover and respond to rehabilitation
  • Increased risk of suicide

Depression in the Elderly: Treatment

Treating depression in the elderly follows the same process as treatment in other ages. However, when it comes to medication, extra care is taken on the dosage and even the choice of the drugs. That is because older adults are more sensitive and vulnerable to side effects. The medications may not have the same effect among the elderly as they do on younger people.

Some significant side effects of commonly prescribed antidepressants include sedation or confusion, which increases the likelihood of falls and fractures among older adults. Some drugs under this category may also cause rapid bone loss. That is why medications specifically used to treat geriatric depression include:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like citalopram (Celexa), sertraline (Zoloft), and escitalopram (Lexapro).
  • Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) like venlafaxine (Effexor), desvenlafaxine (Pristiq), and duloxetine (Cymbalta).
  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) like phenelzine (Nardil), tranylcypromine (Parnate), and selegiline (Emsam).
  • Atypical antidepressants like bupropion (Wellbutrin), trazodone (Desyrel), and mirtazapine (Remeron).

Besides medication, other effective and often preferred treatment options for depression in old age include:

  • Psychotherapy: helps to manage the signs of depression in the elderly by changing their behavior patterns, developing new positive habits, and modifying their ways of thinking.
  • Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT): uses electrical currents to stimulate the brain and treat depression. It is often used in severe depression that is unresponsive to medication or psychotherapy.


Depression affects a significant portion of the elderly, but it is not part of old age. It can be prevented early on and treated when the symptoms manifest.

Older people are highly vulnerable to depression. At the same time, they are less likely to get the needed treatment because they can misunderstand the symptoms or be reluctant to seek medical care. It is, however, important that they and their relatives pay attention to mental health to maintain their quality of life. And to get a diagnosis and proper treatment plan based on a detailed assessment of symptoms, contact EZCare Clinic


+2 sources
  1. CDC Promotes Public Health Approach To Address Depression among Older Adults
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  2. CDC Promotes Public Health Approach To Address Depression among Older Adults
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