Depression is a medical disorder that impacts over 20 million American adults overall and affects more than 7 million individuals over the age of 65. It is more than just feeling "sad." Depression can affect mental, physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. If left untreated, depression can lead to suicide.
Depression that occurs in older adults is commonly known as "late-life" depression. Depression can occur in older adults for many reasons, but should not be considered a typical part of aging. Unfortunately, many older adults and their caregivers believe that it is, and depression in older adults often goes overlooked and untreated.
If you have five or more of these symptoms for more than a few days, you may be suffering from depression and should seek further evaluation.
Depression in older adults may be different from that in younger persons. Older adults with depression tend to express concern about and experience symptoms like anxiety, loss of interest, physical health problems, and a lack of caring about themselves or their situation rather than the typical depression symptom: sadness. This phenomenon is sometimes called "sadless depression."
Additionally, depression in older adults can be confused with dementia because some symptoms of depression overlap with those of dementia, like lack of caring and motivation. Thus, it can be difficult for the layperson to distinguish between the two. A trained psychiatric professional who specializes in older adults will have the tools necessary to identify the diagnosis and treat the symptoms in the most effective way.
There is no one cause for depression. It can be related to genetic, biological, or cognitive factors, and life changes, or it can occur in association with another illness. Your body contains chemicals that help control your moods. When you don't have enough of these chemicals or when your brain doesn't respond to them properly, you may become depressed. Depression can be hereditary (meaning it can run in families). Some medical problems and medicines can cause depression. Abusing drugs or alcohol can also lead to depression. Depression is not a normal part of growing older, but it is common in adults age 65 and over. Retirement, health problems and the loss of loved ones are things that happen to older adults. Feeling sad at these times is normal. But if these feelings persist and keep you from your usual activities, you should talk to your doctor.
The Geriatric Depression Scale (GDS) is a screening tool used to determine if an older adult may need further evaluation for depression. The GDS is a valuable and reliable measurement tool used in various clinical practicies and research programs. Click here to download a copy of the GDS or the GDS Short Form. A score of 10 or higher on the GDS indicates that you should seek an evaluation for depression. See the GDS Key and GDS Short Form Key for help in scoring the scale.
It is never too late to find help for depression. Visit this independent website for a free depression screening: www.depressionscreening.org. The test takes only a few minutes, and provides several national resources for treatment and information. You can also visit our Referral Network to find providers trained in treating depression in the southeastern states. Our Depression Information Service, at 1-877-498-0096 can also help you find resources in your area.
Approximately 90 percent of people with depression can be treated successfully with safe medications, psychotherapy, or other treatment options. Visit our Treatment Options webpage to learn more about current treatments for depression and those that are being researched at this time.