Depression in Seniors

Retired from their careers and with their children grown and leading their own busy lives, many seniors I work with tell me they feel they no longer have a purpose in their lives. Several of my clients have outlived their friends or other family members. Some older adults no longer have children who live in the same area or there is an estrangement with a family member. And most seniors are very concerned and anxious about becoming a burden to their families and often don’t communicate or share their true feelings with them.

Although a diagnosis of depression is usually made in young adults, depression can occur at any age, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. NIMH further notes that depression is not a normal part of aging, although depression in the older adult population may be misdiagnosed or under diagnosed since sadness is not a main symptom of depression in the elderly.

There are a variety of factors which can lead to depression in the elderly including: loneliness and isolation, managing a chronic illness or disability, dementia, side effects of medications, poor quality of sleep; and being female.

Additionally, stressful life events (the death of a spouse, divorce or marital separation) can also trigger an ongoing depression—which is different from the normal grief associated after the death of a spouse. Being a caregiver to a spouse or family member makes the senior population especially vulnerable. Furthermore, a family history or a previous episode of depression can also play a role. Alcohol or drug use (or misuse) can also trigger a depressive state in the elderly.

Signs of Depression in Seniors

Seniors may not necessarily feel sad when depressed but rather have less passion or interest in doing the activities they normally enjoy. According to NIMH other signs of depression in the senior population include:

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood;
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities;
  • Feelings of hopelessness, pessimism;
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness;
  • Decreased energy, fatigue, being “slowed down”;
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions;
  • Difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping;
  • Appetite and/or unintended weight changes;
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, suicide attempts;
  • Restlessness, irritability;
  • Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause and/or that do not ease even with treatment


It is important to note that suicidal thoughts or actions should never be ignored and the following actions should be taken:

  • Call your doctor.
  • Call 911 for emergency services.
  • Go to the nearest hospital emergency room.
  • Call the toll-free, 24-hour hotline of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255); TTY: 1-800-799-4TTY (4889) to be connected to a trained counselor at a suicide crisis center nearest you.


If you are a senior (or care for an aging parent or family member) who you believe may be suffering from depression, there are a number of treatment options available.

For more information:


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