How can older adults (65+) recognize and get help for depression?
Everyone ages differently. Older adulthood (65+) can be a period of life that brings newfound freedom to retire and focus on new hobbies, travel, or spending more time with family. However, older adulthood can also bring many difficult life changes such as losing loved ones, having more health concerns, living with aches and pains, having less independence, and experiencing financial challenges. These life changes sometimes happen alongside mood symptoms such as grief, sadness, and loneliness. While these mood symptoms may be a normal part of aging, long periods of sadness that affect a person’s energy, desire to participate in fun and meaningful activities, connection with others, and physical health are not.
Depression is Not a Normal Part of Aging
Depression is a real and serious mental health condition, not a normal part of growing older. You should be concerned if you or your loved one begins experiencing feelings of sadness or irritability that last for more than a week at a time. Other symptoms that could signal depression in older adults include:
- Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
- Irritability or restlessness
- Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once enjoyable
- 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 or suicide attempts
- Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not get better with treatment
You may wish to consult NAMI’s Depression web page for more information about the condition.
Why Is Depression Overlooked in Older Adults?
Signs of depression in older adults may be dismissed as a natural reaction to life changes that happen as we age, and therefore not be seen as something to be treated. Certain medical conditions and medication side effects can look like symptoms of depression, and about 80% of older adults have at least one chronic health condition. Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias can cause symptoms similar to depression, and depression can be an early warning sign of possible dementia.It is important to take symptoms of depression seriously and talk with your doctor about getting help.
How Can I Get Help?
If you are experiencing symptoms of depression, it is important to get help from a trained professional. A good first step is to talk to your primary care provider (PCP) about how you have been feeling. Your PCP should rule out any outside factors such as medical conditions and medications that could be causing your symptoms. They can also give you a referral to a mental or behavioral health provider.
There are several effective approaches for treating depression including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Interpersonal Therapy (IPT), and Psychodynamic therapy. You can visit NAMI’s Psychotherapy webpage to learn more and talk with your mental health provider about the best approach to treatment.
Support groups offer a space to connect with others who experience mental health challenges similar to yours. They are usually led by peers, or individuals who have themselves been diagnosed with a mental health condition.
- Anxiety & Depression Association of America (ADAA) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the prevention, treatment and cure of depression and other mental health disorders; they offer information on the condition, treatment, resources, and a support group directory. Search the ADAA Support Group Locator for a group near you.
- Depression & Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) is a national organization offering peer-based, wellness-oriented support, services and resources for people who live with mood disorders, including information on treatment, resources, and support groups for individuals living with mood disorders and their loved ones. Search the DBSA Support Group Locator group near you.
- NAMI Connection Support Group is a peer support group for people with mental health conditions. Groups meet weekly, every other week or monthly, depending on location. This program is also available at certain NAMI affiliates in Spanish, as NAMI Conexión. Find a NAMI Connection Support Group near you via your local NAMI Affiliate.
- NAMI Family Support Group is a support group for family members, significant others, and friends of people with mental health conditions. Groups meet weekly, every other week or monthly, depending on location. Find a NAMI Family Support Group near you via your local NAMI Affiliate.
Studies have shown that older adults who are socially connected cope better with health conditions and experience less symptoms of depression. It is important to remain connected with your friends, family, and community in older adulthood.
- VolunteerMatch is a non-profit organization that offers information about volunteer opportunities in your community in a variety of roles with different organizations.
- AARP Friendly Voices Warmline is a volunteer-based service that offers phone calls during challenging and isolating times. Callers must call first and provide information. To reach the AARP Warmline contact (888) 281-0145. For Spanish contact (888) 497-4108.
- Connect2Affect provides resources and tools for older adults experiencing loneliness.
I am a family member/caregiver of an older adult (65+) experiencing depression. How can I support them?
- Watch for warning signs - Take notice if there are changes to your loved one’s sleep schedule, energy levels, appetite, motivation, or mood.
- Ask your loved one about how they are feeling – Use open communication to discuss your concerns with your loved one. Let them know what you have noticed and ask if they are feeling depressed. Offer support, ask about their needs, and encourage them to talk to their doctor or a mental health professional.
- Help your loved one remain socially connected - Isolation and loneliness can negatively impact your loved one’s physical and emotional well-being. Help them remain connected with their family, friends, and local community.
- Help your loved one participate in meaningful activities- Participating in meaningful activities can boost your loved one’s mood and well-being. Help them remain engaged in their hobbies and interests. Consider joining them in activities such as outdoor walks, gardening, and reading.