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Depression in Older Adults

What causes depression in older adults?

There are many possible causes for depression in the elderly. Examples include:

Environmental factors

  • loneliness, isolation
  • retirement
  • being unmarried (especially if widowed)
  • recent loss
  • lack of a supportive social network
  • decreased mobility due to illness or loss of driving privileges

Psychological factors

  • unresolved, past traumatic experiences may surface when an elder slows down
  • damage to body image (from amputation, cancer surgery, or heart attack)
  • fear of death
  • frustration with memory loss
  • difficulty adjusting to stressful or changing conditions (i.e., housing and living conditions, loss of loved ones or friends, loss of abilities)

Physical factors, including genetics

  • inherited tendencies toward depression
  • co-occurring illness (such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, cancer, substance abuse, diabetes or stroke)
  • vascular changes in the brain
  • a vitamin B-12
  • chronic or severe pain

Personality characteristics  

  • low self-esteem
  • extreme dependency
  • pessimism

Medications (all medications have side effects, but some can cause or worsen the symptoms of depression)

  • some pain medicines (codeine, darvon)
  • some drugs for high blood pressure (clonidine, reserpine)
  • hormones (estrogen, progesterone, cortisol, prednisone, anabolic steroids)
  • some heart medications (digitalis, propanalol)
  • anticancer agents (cycloserine, tamoxifen, nolvadex, velban, oncovin)
  • some drugs for Parkinson’s disease (levadopa, bromocriptine)
  • some drugs for arthritis (indomethacin)
  • some tranquilizers/antianxiety drugs (valium, halcion)
  • alcohol

Content provided with permission from Helpguide

For more information or to discuss eldercare concerns please contact Partners Employee Assistance Program at 1-866-724-4EAP.

In case of emergency, please call 911 or your local hospital emergency service.


This content was last modified on: 06/30/2008

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In case of emergency, please call 911 or your local hospital emergency service.

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