Depression in Older Age is Not Normal
“My mother is 68 years old, and I’ve noticed some changes…She isn’t interested in her favorite foods anymore. She has trouble sleeping at night and snaps at the grandchildren more than usual. She used to be pretty outgoing, but now she keeps to herself a lot.”
Having depression for a long period of time is not a normal part of growing older. Most older adults feel satisfied with their lives, despite having more illnesses or physical problems. But depression in older adults may be difficult to recognize because they may show different, less obvious symptoms.
Sometimes older people who are depressed appear to feel tired, have trouble sleeping, or seem grumpy and irritable. Confusion or attention problems caused by depression can sometimes look like Alzheimer’s disease or other brain disorders. Older adults also may have more medical conditions such as heart disease, stroke, or cancer, which may cause depressive symptoms. Or they may be taking medications with side effects that contribute to depression.
Some older adults may experience what doctors call vascular depression, also called arteriosclerotic depression or subcortical ischemic depression. Vascular depression may result when blood vessels become less flexible and harden over time, becoming constricted. The hardening of vessels prevents normal blood flow to the body’s organs, including the brain. Those with vascular depression may have or be at risk for heart disease or stroke.
Sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish grief from major depression. Grief after loss of a loved one is a normal reaction and generally does not require professional mental health treatment. However, grief that is complicated and lasts for a very long time following a loss may require treatment.
Older adults who had depression when they were younger are more at risk for developing depression in late life than those who did not have the illness earlier in life.
For more information about mood and related issues, the following resources may be helpful.
- Mood Disorders Society of Canada. https://mdsc.ca/about-us/
- Anxiety Disorders Association of America. www.adaa.org
- The Canadian Network for Mood and Anxiety. www.canmat.org
- Obsessive Compulsive Association. www.ocfoundation.org
- The Anxiety Network. www.anxietynetwork.com
Source: National Institute of Mental health, with permission. Please note that any information regarding medications is provided for educational purposes only and may be outdated.
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