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. Depressing in old age is more common than we think, 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 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 of depression in the elderly 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 in old age can get masked very easily. 

Depression can affect individuals of any age, including the elderly. However, recognizing depression in the elderly can be challenging as some symptoms may overlap with normal ageing processes or other health conditions. It is essential to be vigilant for signs of depression in the elderly to ensure they receive the necessary care and support. Here are some common signs to watch out for:

1. Persistent Sadness: If an elderly person exhibits prolonged feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or emptiness, it may be a sign of depression.

2. Social Withdrawal: A sudden or gradual withdrawal from social activities, hobbies, or interactions with family and friends can indicate depression.

3. Loss of Interest: A loss of interest or pleasure in activities that the person previously enjoyed might be a red flag.

4. Changes in Sleep Patterns: Insomnia or excessive sleeping can be symptoms of depression in the elderly.

5. Appetite Changes: Significant changes in appetite, leading to weight loss or weight gain, may be indicative of depression.

6. Fatigue and Lack of Energy: An elderly person experiencing unexplained fatigue, low energy levels, or a general sense of slowing down may be suffering from depression.

7. Feelings of Worthlessness or Guilt: Excessive or unwarranted feelings of guilt or worthlessness are common in depression.

8. Physical Ailments: Older adults with depression might present vague physical complaints like aches, pains, or digestive issues without a clear medical cause.

9. Cognitive Impairment: Depression in the elderly can sometimes manifest as difficulties with memory, concentration, or decision-making.

10. Neglecting Personal Care: A depressed senior might show a decline in personal hygiene or neglect their appearance and living conditions.

11. Expressing Suicidal Thoughts: If an elderly individual expresses thoughts of self-harm or suicide, it requires immediate attention and professional help.

It's important to note that depression in the elderly can be influenced by various factors, including the loss of a spouse or close friends, chronic health conditions, social isolation, and financial stress. Moreover, elderly individuals in a diverse country like India might face unique challenges related to cultural norms, social support systems, and access to mental healthcare.

If you suspect an elderly person is experiencing depression, it is crucial to approach the situation with empathy and encourage them to seek help from a healthcare professional. In some cases, talking to family members, caregivers, or community support groups can provide valuable insights and assistance in getting the elderly person the support they need.

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, Trustee, 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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