13 Signs and Symptoms of Depression in Seniors

Signs and Symptoms of Depression in Seniors

13 Signs and Symptoms of Depression in Seniors

Depression in older adults is a major health concern, and often not recognized or treated. Learn the signs of depression in seniors. 

Depression can be present at any age during one’s life, including as an older adult. Depression in seniors is a widespread problem, and it’s not a normal part of aging. In fact, more than 1 in 9 elders suffer from depression. Plus, over half of depressed older adults have their first depressive episode after the age of 60. Often, depression in older adults is untreated, with one third taking antidepressants but still showing symptoms. 

What is depression?

Depression is a mental health condition. It is a mood disorder in which feelings of sadness, loss, anger, or frustration interfere with daily life for weeks or longer.

What causes depression in seniors?

Many older adults experience significant life events and changes over time. Unfortunately, some of them can increase the chances of getting depression. Alternatively, they can make existing depressive symptoms worse. Some examples of these changes include:

  • Moving from a family or established residence, like to an assisted living space
  • Chronic pain and illnesses
  • Children that move out or away
  • The passing of a spouse or close friends
  • Losing one’s mobility or independence, such as challenges with daily tasks, struggling to care for themselves, or inability to continue driving)


Depression can also stem from physical illness as well. Examples include:

  • Thyroid conditions and disorders
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Cancer
  • Dementia or Alzheimer’s
  • Heart trouble or disease
  • Stroke

Signs of depression in seniors

Below, we discuss 13 indications that depression could be present in older adults. 

Sadness or feelings of despair

Changes in mood are one of the most common symptoms of depression. A person that is depressed may feel sad or down for long periods of time.They may also express feeling “empty” or incapable of feeling joy or happiness. Some people may refer to this sadness as despair.

Pain without an apparent cause or aggravated aches and pains

As it turns out, depression and pain often co-exist. In fact, roughly 75% of primary care patients with depression report suffering some sort of physical pain. Depression may manifest itself in physical aches and pains with no obvious cause. Examples include unexplained muscle aches, chest pain, shakes, or hot flashes. 

Depression can cause pain while pain can cause depression. This can be of particular concern to seniors, as they are more likely to experience chronic pain than the general population. Sometimes pain and depression fuel a vicious cycle in which pain worsens depression symptoms. The resulting depression can exacerbate feelings of pain. For first signs, take a look to see if you or a loved one experience physical ills without an apparent cause. This could be an indicator of the onset of depression.

Loss of interest in socializing or hobbies

Some older adults with depression may no longer have an interest in activities and things that they used to enjoy, like sports, music, socializing, or sexual activity. They may decline offers or opportunities to participate in activities or be with others.

Weight loss or loss of appetite

Individuals with depression often lose their desire and appetite for food. When this happens, weight loss is usually noticeable. They may demonstrate little interest in eating or go for long periods without food.

Feeling hopeless or helpless

Depression can make people lose any sense of hope. They may feel like there is no foreseeable end to how they are feeling. An older adult may also demonstrate helplessness. They may think or say that they can’t be helped to get better or that they will always feel down and depressed.

Feeling unmotivated and without energy

Some older adults with depression may find it difficult to get out of bed in the morning. They may feel run down and exhausted. Everyday tasks may seem daunting and they don’t have the motivation to tackle them, like going to the store or cooking meals. They may find themselves spending a significant amount of time at home sleeping or resting. Fatigue stemming from depression can make them feel like they are always tired, in spite of sufficient rest at night. Conversely, others with depression may experience poor sleep.

Normal sleep patterns disturbed (like difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, daytime sleepiness, or oversleeping)

Around 75% of people with depression experience symptoms of insomnia. Some individuals with depression may be unable to sleep well. They may have trouble either falling asleep or remaining asleep. They may experience staying up very late at night and/or waking up very early in the morning.

Feelings or loss of self-worth (demonstrating concern about being burdensome, feeling worthless or self-loathing behavior)

When a senior is depressed, they often may think that they are worthless. Often, the worse the depression, the more they feel this way. Worthlessness can be described as a feeling of desperation and hopelessness. Older adults experiencing worthlessness may feel insignificant, useless, or believe they have nothing of value to offer the world. Many depressed people expressed dislike for themselves. If you see any of these troubling signs in yourself or a senior loved one, it may be cause for concern and signal that depression is setting in. 

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Slowed movement or speech

Quite often, one of the first signs of depression in the elderly is a change in thinking. A slowdown in thinking can occur when a person is depressed. When talking with an individual who is depressed, you may notice that they demonstrate slow speech or difficulty comprehending and processing information. To the person who is depressed, it could feel as if it’s very difficult to think and it requires more than the normal effort to do so.

Increased use of alcohol or other drugs

Depression can put a person at increased  risk of developing an alcohol problem. However, the inverse is even more common. Depression can arise and increase during a battle with alcohol Thus, an increase in depression can then lead to more drinking, further perpetuating this cycle from the other angle.

Seniors dealing with depression are at double the risk of developing alcohol use disorder. Interestingly, the reverse is also true. Therefore, an increase in the use of alcohol or drugs can foster depression, which can lead to a vicious cycle of increased depression symptoms and increased alcohol or drug consumption. 

Some studies find that alcohol abuse is more likely to cause major depression than the other way around, but it appears that it can go in either direction. In any case, monitor older adults for elevated alcohol or drug use and the potential for it to facilitate depressive symptoms.

Fixation on death; thoughts of suicide

A person afflicted with depression may think more about dying and death. They may also ponder suicide and how they could end their life. These thoughts are known as suicide ideation. There is a strong correlation between seniors considering suicide and also experiencing chronic medical conditions or concerns at the same time. 

On occasion, an individual may tell others about these thoughts. If someone is discussing death or suicide, it is critical that you seek assistance immediately. This may be their way of asking for help. In some severe cases of depression, an individual may also self-harm or hurt themselves as well. 

Memory problems

Depression can impact a person’s memory and cognitive abilities. They could have trouble concentrating or focusing on different aspects of their life. They may also struggle in making decisions. These include even small, everyday choices. Individuals with depression may also discover that they cannot remember things quite as well as they did before. They could forget about appointments or commitments. They might not recall things that they did or said recently.

Neglecting personal care (skipping meals, forgetting meds, neglecting personal hygiene) 

Mental illness can make its way into many parts of your life. It can affect even the most mundane of activities, like showering or brushing your teeth. Major depression is often characterized by diminished interest in activities, as well as fatigue. In other words, sufferers may have little motivation or energy to maintain hygiene, eat, or continue established routines while depressed. As a result, it is not unusual for depression sufferers to end up neglecting a variety of personal care needs and hygiene.

Taking action

Depression in older adults is a public health concern that should not be ignored. It can have devastating consequences, like an increased risk of morbidity, elevated rates of suicide lower physical, cognitive and social functioning, along with more potential for neglectiving oneself. These can all increase the chances of death.  

If you see the signs of depression in yourself or in a senior loved one, it’s important that you see your doctor for the right diagnosis and treatment, if appropriate. Luckily, older adults that get the treatment they need can often correct the debilitating effects of depression and overcome the disease. 

Depression in older adults remains elevated for those with the highest needs, including hands on care at home or in a facility. For seniors living at home, consider Chosen Family Home Care to help your loved one overcome depression and live a full life. Chosen Family not only helps with activities of daily living, but they also engage seniors in ways to promote living with dignity and quality of life through promoting hobbies and social engagements with clients. 

Learn more about the Chosen Family difference and contact them here. Also, follow all of our top senior resources on our insights page.

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