April 13, 2024 |Written and Reviewed by Boyton Beach Home Care - Editorial Contributors

Depression is a widespread mental health issue, especially among older adults. It’s essential to address this growing problem. With nearly 21 million Americans experiencing at least one major depressive episode, it’s crucial to discuss how to manage this condition as you get older.

Depression can affect anyone as they grow older, no matter their background or accomplishments. The symptoms of depression in older adults can impact various aspects of life, including energy levels, appetite, sleep patterns, and interest in activities, work, hobbies, and relationships.

Unfortunately, many older adults experiencing depression may not recognize the symptoms or seek the help they need.

What is Depression in Older People?

Depression is a mental health condition that can affect people of all ages, including older adults. While it is normal to feel down sometimes, if you feel this way for 2 weeks or more, or your mood is affecting your ability to cope with everyday life, you may be experiencing depression.

Sometimes older people can think that symptoms of depression occur because of their age, poor health, or dementia. Some older people prefer not to talk about depression, feel a sense of shame, or don’t like to admit that they’re not coping. Sadly, this can lead to their not seeking help, or delaying assessment and treatment for a long time.

Turning 60 and feeling depressed often is associated with having other medical conditions. It is unusual for someone in good health to develop depression for the first time when they are over 60 — but this can happen for some people.

Older adults are estimated to suffer from major depression at the following rates:

  • Approximately 1% to 5% of older people living in the general community.
  • About 11.5% of elderly hospitalized patients.
  • Around 13.5% for seniors requiring home health care.

Signs of Depression in Older Adults

More than one in ten older individuals, and over three in ten residents in aged care, go through periods of depression. Warning signs of depression in older adults include:

  • Elderly crying for no reason
  • Feeling sad or hopeless
  • Experiencing unexplained aches and pains
  • Losing interest in activities or socializing
  • Experiencing weight loss or loss of appetite
  • Feeling helpless or worthless
  • Lacking energy or motivation
  • Having trouble sleeping or oversleeping
  • Feeling worthless or having self-loathing thoughts
  • Moving or speaking more slowly than usual
  • Increasing alcohol or drug use
  • Thinking about death or suicide
  • Having memory problems
  • Neglecting personal care tasks like eating, taking medication, or hygiene

Note: Depressed older adults may not feel “sad”

It’s important to recognize that depression in older adults may not always manifest as feelings of sadness. While we might expect sadness to accompany depression, many seniors experiencing depression may not report feeling sad at all. 

Instead, they may express low motivation, lack of energy, or physical discomfort. Physical complaints, such as arthritis pain or worsening headaches, are often the primary symptoms of depression in the elderly.

Causes of Depression in Older Adults

As we age, we often face significant life changes that can increase the risk of depression in older adults. These can include:

  • Health Problems: Illness, chronic pain, cognitive decline, and changes in body image due to surgery or sickness can contribute to depression in the elderly.
  • Loneliness and Isolation: Factors such as living alone, loss of social connections due to deaths or relocation, and decreased mobility can trigger depression in older adults.
  • Reduced Sense of Purpose: Retirement can bring a loss of identity, confidence, and financial security, increasing the risk of depression. Physical limitations can also impact the sense of purpose.
  • Fears and Anxieties: Concerns about health, finances, or personal safety, as well as fears of death or dying, can exacerbate depression symptoms.
  • Bereavement: Losing loved ones, whether friends, family members, or pets, can deeply affect older adults and contribute to depression, especially the loss of a spouse or partner.

Is it Grief or Depression?

As we get older, we face many losses, whether it’s losing our independence, mobility, health, a long-time career, or someone we love. Grieving over these losses is normal and healthy, even if the sadness persists for a while.

Distinguishing between grief and clinical depression can be challenging because they share similar symptoms. However, there are some key differences:

  • Grief is like a roller coaster, with ups and downs, good and bad days. Even during grief, you might still experience moments of happiness or pleasure.
  • Depression, on the other hand, brings constant feelings of emptiness and despair.

While there’s no specific timetable for grief, if it persists over time and takes away all joy, like laughing at a joke, feeling warmth from a hug, or enjoying a beautiful sunset, it might be depression.

The Impact of Untreated Depression in Older Adults

Untreated depression can have serious consequences beyond just affecting mood—it can also affect your overall health and well-being.

  • Changes in Sleep Patterns: Many seniors with depression experience sleep disturbances, such as trouble sleeping through the night or waking up early and struggling to fall back asleep. This lack of restful sleep can lead to fatigue and exhaustion during the day, making daily tasks like cooking or cleaning more difficult.
  • Higher Risk of Illnesses and Physical Pain: Depression can impact eating habits and exercise routines, increasing the risk of various health conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. It can also manifest physically through chronic aches, headaches, digestive issues, and sleep disturbances. Additionally, depression can hinder self-care practices, leading to infections, falls, and other injuries.
  • Obesity and Poor Nutrition: Depression can contribute to obesity and poor nutrition as individuals may struggle to make healthy lifestyle choices. This includes opting for unhealthy foods and being less motivated to engage in physical activity, which is crucial for maintaining a healthy weight.
  • Decreased Quality of Life: Depression significantly diminishes an older adult’s quality of life. It can sap motivation and energy, making it challenging to maintain relationships, participate in activities they once enjoyed, or even manage daily tasks. Decision-making may become difficult, financial management may suffer, and social obligations may be neglected.

Get Screened for Depression!

At Boynton Beach Home Care, we understand the challenges seniors face, especially during times of social distancing and isolation. We’re here to provide dedicated home health care services that prioritize your comfort and safety in the familiar surroundings of your own home.

Our compassionate team is trained to recognize the elderly depression signs, ensuring that you receive the support and assistance you need to live your best life. Whether it’s a listening ear, companionship, or practical help with daily tasks, we’re committed to helping elderly with depression.


  1. What is the most common cause of depression in the elderly?

The most common causes of depression in the elderly include social isolation, health issues, chronic pain, major life changes (such as retirement or the loss of a loved one), and side effects of medications.

  1. What is the main reason for the elderly to feel lonely and depressed?

Loneliness and depression in the elderly can be caused by a variety of factors, including social isolation due to living alone, loss of friends or family members, physical limitations, mobility issues, and lack of social support networks.

  1. What are the activities for elderly people with depression?

Engaging in social activities, hobbies, exercise, volunteering, attending support groups, participating in creative activities like art or music therapy, and spending time outdoors can all be beneficial for elderly individuals struggling with depression.

  1. What kind of care does an elderly person need?

The type of care needed for an elderly person depends on their individual needs and health status. This may include assistance with daily activities such as bathing, dressing, meal preparation, medication management, transportation to medical appointments, and emotional support.

  1. How can the elderly improve mental health?

Elderly individuals can improve their mental health by staying physically active, maintaining social connections, engaging in enjoyable activities, eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, seeking professional help if needed, and practicing relaxation techniques such as meditation or yoga.

  1. What are the symptoms of depression in older adults?

Depression in the elderly symptoms can include persistent sadness, loss of interest in activities, changes in appetite or weight, sleep disturbances, fatigue or loss of energy, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, difficulty concentrating or making decisions, and thoughts of death or suicide.

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