Treatment of Depression in Seniors

Apr 5, 2016

Treatment of Depression in Seniors

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There are nearly 31 million people in the United States that are over the age of 65, and over 5 million of them (almost 20%) are clinically depressed. Depression hits America’s older generations much harder for a lot of reasons – certain medications have an increased risk of developing geriatric depression, along with the simple idea that they are facing the end of their lives and a lot of major life events.

Certain age and health-related injuries and ailments may also increase the risk that an elderly individual may become depressed. Anything that may decrease the quality of life or independence of a senior, such as loss of sight or hearing and low mobility, typically lead to depression in the elderly. Although, depression is most commonly found in seniors that have suffered from a stroke or heart attack.

Signs and Symptoms of Depression

All too often people believe that depression is just being sad, but there’s a huge difference – sadness is a normal human emotion, while depression is not. Depression is a complicated mental illness that comes with a slew of negative and harmful side effects. The ability to recognize the signs and symptoms of depression in oneself and in others can save a life.

Here are just a few of the signs and symptoms of depression to look out for:

  • Long-term feelings of sadness and hopelessness
  • Nausea
  • Unexplainable aches and pains
  • Changes in sleep habits (sleeping too much or not sleeping enough)
  • Restlessness or agitation
  • Changes in eating habits (not eating enough or eating too much)
  • Thoughts of dying, death or suicide

The symptoms can weigh heavily on an older adult's quality of life, and cause them to no longer care for themselves properly, ultimately ending in a premature passing.

Depression Treatment Options for Seniors

While there are many treatments for depression throughout the world, the United States typically focuses on the four most popular.


Medications, or anti-depressants, are typically the most common treatment of depression, but this may vary in older adults. Often times, adults have other medications that they must take, and cannot mix anti-depressants into their regimen. These medications also come with unwanted side effects, such as blood thinning, nausea, and high or low blood pressure, along with irregular heartbeat. Although, these medications aren’t all bad – they help millions of people fight depression every year.


The ultimate goal of psychotherapy is to teach individuals about their condition and help them understand why they have certain feelings, moods or emotions. This is accomplished by a series of one on one appointments with a therapist or psychologist. In the end, there are hopes that the individual will change their way of thinking, possibly by picking up or letting go of habits and ways of thinking. Psychotherapy is a popular option for elderly individuals due to its non-chemical and non-invasive nature.

Brain Stimulation

Brain stimulation therapies are touching the brain directly with electricity, implants or magnets to stimulate the brain. An example of this is electroconvulsive shock therapy, which triggers seizures in depressed individuals, in hopes to alter their brain chemistry. Due to its invasive nature, this is typically only considered a treatment after all other forms of treatment have failed.


Seniors often give up on regular exercise and workouts in old age, which is another cause of depression. Working out produces endorphins in the brain, which help increase and individual’s mood. Another simple way seniors can help themselves is by simply remembering to connect and socialize with others – isolation can also worsen depression. Finally, be all around healthy; seniors should be getting enough sleep and eating a nutritious diet.

There are times that depression becomes unavoidable, but that doesn’t mean it has to become a permanent fixture in the lives of older adults. Depression is treatable and manageable.

If you suspect an older loved one is suffering from depression, talk to them and contact a trusted physician.

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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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My father has been dealing with depression for a while now, but it seems more severe lately; who can I call if he decides to harm himself?

It’s a tough subject for many, but if you suspect your loved one is at risk, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline available 24/7 at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255). You’ll be greeted by trained counselors who can direct you to the nearest crisis center and provide professional advice. If your father harms himself, be sure to call emergency medical services.

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