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Depression and Anxiety in the Senior Population

elderly man looking out window depressed

Written by:

Jeffrey Grossman


September 17, 2019

Mental illness is a serious subject to discuss at any age and can take on a variety of forms over the course of a person’s life. Depression is not simply “feeling sad” or “off” on certain days and anxiety is more than just “being worried.” Although common, depression and anxiety are medical diagnoses that require treatment like any other condition in older adults.


Depression in Aging Adults

Mental illness is not something you grow in or out of. Everyone’s experience is unique and needs to be validated, not disregarded. Some people struggle with depression their whole lives while others experience the onset after a painful or traumatic experience. According to the American Psychology Association, depression is one of the most prevalent mental health disorders that seniors experience. 

Growing older inherently involves change. Working adults retire, spouses become widows and widowers, chronic illnesses take away the strength to complete simple, daily tasks, etc. Recovering from these life adjustments can take significant amounts of time and emotional bandwidth. Some older adults adjust after a month or so, but others struggle with their mental state indefinitely moving forward.


Signs of Senior Depression

Older adults should not be overlooked when it comes to mental health conditions, such as depression. Sadness is usually the feeling or symptom associated with depression, but the signs can be subtler and internally more pervasive for seniors. Senior depression can manifest itself through symptoms such as:

  • Trouble sleeping
  • Oversleeping
  • Grumpiness, irritability
  • Reduced appetite
  • Hopelessness
  • Loss of joy
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Aches and pains

Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience published a study stating that 69% of people who met the criteria for depression consulted a doctor for aches and pains. Such symptoms may seem typical for aging adults, but symptoms indicate a much deeper condition, not readily apparent. Misdiagnosis happens all too often because the symptoms of depression can seem age-related in nature. 

Depression is more likely to impact people who already struggle with one or more chronic illnesses, which limits their ability to function at full capacity. For instance, depression is a common side effect of Multiple Sclerosis (MS). An interesting fact to note by the Center for Disease Control is the rates of depression in seniors living in a community are low, between <1% and 5%, while those who need in home care increase to 13.5%. Relational connection and companionship are so important for older adults to receive, especially from their caregivers.


Signs of Senior Anxiety

Anxiety disorders are also frequently diagnosed in the senior population. Even the fear of aging itself can become a catalyst for anxiety. Loved ones and caregivers need to be conscious of sensitive topics that may exacerbate anxiety and worry in seniors. 

The Geriatric Mental Health Foundation states anxiety affects up to 20% of older adults and lists some telling signs to look out for:

  • Excessive worry or fear
  • Avoiding social situations
  • Overly concerned about safety
  • Racing heart, shallow breathing, trembling, nausea, sweating
  • Poor sleep
  • Muscle tension, feeling weak and shaky
  • Hoarding/collecting
  • Depression

Senior anxiety often occurs in tandem with depression. If your loved one is struggling or displaying a combination of the signs above, contact their primary care physician. Worrying, grieving, and being stressed are all normal parts of life; but when disorders are looming under the surface—and go untreated—the quality of life for seniors can drastically drop, leading to poor overall health.


Mental Health Treatment

Mental health is just as important to monitor in older adults as their physical wellbeing. Treatment is widely available by medication and therapy for mental illnesses, such as depression and anxiety. Older adults tend to prefer psychological-based therapies over medicine. Prescribing yet another pill can be defeating to seniors in comparison to personally working with a professional.

Mental Health America has mental health screening tools to quickly and easily determine if symptoms are present for a variety of mental health illnesses. 

Disclaimer: This screening tool can be a helpful resource as a starting point, but a mental health professional should be consulted post-test and not substituted for an online evaluation.


How Can Commonwise Home Care Help?

Home care management services are convenient and give confidence back to families with loved ones who live alone. Talking about mental health is not an easy subject to address, but the side effects that result from untreated mental illnesses are worse than the conversation itself. At Commonwise Home Care, our professional, trained caregivers help support both you and your loved one(s) through the aging process.

We equip our caregivers to provide the emotional, and physical help older adults need. In home care assists seniors with everyday activities, such as meal preparation and medication monitoring, and contribute a meaningful sense of companionship. Our caregivers are here to be the in home support system seniors need to overcome and manage their illnesses, physical or mental. For more information on the Commonwise Home Care difference, call 434.202.8565.

Disclaimer: Please check with your physician before making any changes to your diet, exercise, or medication routine.