Symptoms and Causes of Depression

Apr 13, 2016

Symptoms and Causes of Depression

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We all feel blue from time to time, but sometimes these sad times don’t go away or even allude to something deeper. Whether a loved one is feeling down of the struggle with depression is personal, it leaves the question, why do some people get depressed while others don’t?

Depression is a common mental disorder that affects one’s mood and general life outlook. Although depression and sadness typically go hand in hand, there are other challenges in life that can lead to depression. Anything from genetics, isolation, and even big life changes, can influence and bring on stages of depression.

With age, it is not uncommon for individuals to lose interest in activities that once brought them joy, struggle with feelings of helplessness, and even neglect personal care and hygiene.

What Causes Depression? 

There are a number of triggers of depression in the elderly. While there are many different circumstances or situations that may be at the root of the depression, they are usually related to a major life change during a time where seniors are also experiencing many changes out of their control.

Transitioning to Retirement

This is a huge life transition, and while many seniors will travel or relax during retirement, there are others who miss working and being a part of something greater.

The Death of a Loved One

Many seniors enjoyed the company of a significant other for a good portion of their life, so losing a spouse or loved one may be incredibly devastating, sending a senior into depression.


It is common to lose touch with friends with age, but seniors that are isolated most of the time and have no social stimulation are more likely to develop depression. Remember that as humans, we all desire to connect and communicate with other humans. This does not change just become someone is not as young or mobile as they once were.

Progressing Health Problems

Living with a health condition can take a serious toll on the psyche. This is especially true for seniors that may have been healthy and mobile, but have now been diagnosed with a terminal illness. If a senior has been living with a chronic illness and that health condition has now taken a turn for the worse or progressed, they may develop depression.

General Anxiety and Fear

Fear and anxiety can take a serious toll on someone’s overall wellbeing. Rational or irrational, these behaviors will cause stress and an increased heart rate. Continuous fear or anxiety over time can lead to depression. Living with past worries, or reoccurring memories from the past can also be a sign of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which can be managed through psychotherapy.

Prescription Side Effects

This could be the result of side effects of  multiple prescribed medications, or perhaps the body simply rejects certain medicines. Even medications prescribed for depression and anxiety can make symptoms worse. It is very important that your senior, you, and your senior's healthcare team pay close attention to how prescription medications can affect your loved one and their quality of life.

Genetic Predispositions

Having a family history of depression can increase the likelihood of developing the disease. However, since depression is such a complex illness, there are likely many different genes that factor into depression.

Is Depression Treatable?

Depression is by no means a sign of weakness or an indication of a flaw in character or mental toughness. Depression can happen to anyone at any age, and it’s important to understand the causes, symptoms, and recognize that treatments for depression in the elderly are available.

The good news is that depression is not a condition that occurs with age, in fact, the majority of older adults are not depressed. It is estimated that 1-5% of older adults in a living community are depressed, whereas 13.5% of individuals receiving in-home care report feeling depressed.

Many older adults respond positively to antidepressant medication, psychotherapy, or a combination of the two.


There are many ways to naturally ease the symptoms of depression. Simple changes to a routine such as incorporating physical activity into the day, joining a community group, or reaching out to a family member can all ease the symptoms of depression.

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Frequently Asked Questions

How can I tell if my loved one is depressed?

There are many varying symptoms of depression, most notably a prolonged sense of hopelessness, increased anxiety, and lack of energy to perform routine tasks. People suffering from depression may also have difficulty sleeping and similarly oversleeping, while still remaining fatigued. Depression can also lead to added stress and aches and pains, which appear without a clear physical cause. 

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I've been taking antidepressants for a few months and I'm finally starting to feel better; Is it okay to stop taking my medicine?

No, I would not suggest for you to stop taking your antidepressants without talking with your doctor. I know that you may be feeling better after a couple months on antidepressants, but in most cases, it is the medication that is contributing to your mood change. However, if you feel that you are ready to be off your antidepressants, talk with your doctor to create a plan for weaning off of your medicine.

The reason you need to slowly wean yourself off of your antidepressants is because quitting cold turkey can have devastating side effects. You may experience major withdrawal symptoms that can set your treatment back weeks or even months. Also, your doctor has probably balanced your antidepressants with the other medications you may be taking.

I'm glad you're feeling better! But be sure to talk with your doctor before you quit your medicine so you can continue to feel better for years to come.

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