Depression in the Elderly

Why Do We Tend To Overlook Symptoms Of Depression In Elderly

As we inch closer towards an individualistic society, without adequate support systems in place, mental health concerns like depression are seen to be increasing at a fast pace. According to the World Health Organisation, over 300 million people worldwide are affected by depression, which tends to manifest differently in various age groups.

Mental health and well-being, an important factor during childhood and adulthood, is often overlooked as a health concern during old age. On the contrary, ageing leads to a higher risk of developing psychological problems since the elderly grapple with deteriorating health and changing life situations at the same time. 

India Has Higher Number of Elderly with Depression

According to the WHO, 21.9% of the elderly population in India suffers from depression. This statistic is significantly higher for India as opposed to the general world population, which has a depression rate of 7% in the older people. Since this age group tends to deal with multiple health concerns at the same time, it is vital to pay attention to the signs of mental illnesses, specifically depression, and offer support. 

For example poor sleep, loss of appetite or memory loss are a few symptoms of mental illnesses that can also be caused by physical illnesses like thyroid problem, heart disease, arthritis or dementia. 

So, have you ever wondered if an elderly at home, showing a high rate of memory loss or insomnia could probably be feeling distressed and suffering from depression? 

Mental health concerns like depression can be caused by various societal, social, psychological and physiological factors. The typical signs and symptoms of depression include depressed mood, lack of pleasure, weight loss or weight gain, feeling of worthlessness and/or hopelessness, fatigue, anxiety, and insomnia among others. Since old age is generally associated with some of these symptoms, depression can get masked very easily among the elderly. 

Depression: Not A Normal Part In Ageing 

Older adults may experience life stressors common to all age groups, and in addition be also affected by issues that are specific to old age. For example, stressful life events like the loss of a loved one, retirement, lack of social support systems, and medical illnesses can cause severe distress in an older age. It is in such cases, that the signs of distress- poor memory, inconsistent sleep patterns, loss of interest in life or lack of enjoyment and sometimes chronic thoughts about death, should not be confused as signs and symptoms of ageing, dementia or a physical illness. 

This is primarily why medical help and expert intervention is crucial and necessary. 

"While a small degree of memory loss occurs, causing older people to forget names, misplace their belongings or struggle to recall directions, these traits do not often disrupt their daily lives or their independence. But memory loss, which occurs as an early sign of depression among the elderly, can tend to cause disorientation, communication difficulties and derange their regular lives. What might start as common forgetfulness among the elderly, can tend to develop into serious symptoms of depression if left undiagnosed or untreated," says Anna Chandy the Chairperson of The Live Love Laugh Foundation. 

While ageing causes several health concerns, it is important to note that it does not negate the effectiveness of treatments for recovery from mental health issues like depression. A combination of the right psychiatrist and counsellor, along with family support can pave the way for improvement and mental well-being among the elderly.

If you have a loved one, whom you think requires professional support, please log on to and find a therapist close to your location.

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