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What are the Signs and Symptoms of Depression in the Elderly?

It is not unusual for elderly people to experience sadness, social isolation and loneliness. Depression is characterized by a persistent mood that does not lift, interferes significantly with ordinary life functions or activities and, if untreated, may lead to suicide.

Because some of these symptoms are similar to those caused by other conditions, including dementia, it is important to see a geriatric specialist for an evaluation. It is also helpful to be aware of the range of symptoms described below and not rely on "sadness" as a measure. Research has shown that many elderly do not think of themselves as sad, even when numerous other indicators point to a diagnosis of depression.

The following symptoms of depression are common in many older people:

  • agitation
  • anxiety
  • persistent, vague or unexplained physical complaints
  • memory problems, difficulty concentrating
  • social withdrawal
  • decreased appetite, weight loss or weight gain
  • sleep disturbances: daytime sleepiness, difficulty falling asleep, multiple mid-night awakenings, early morning awakening
  • irritability or demanding behavior
  • lack of attention to personal care
  • confusion
  • feelings of discouragement or hopelessness
  • sadness, lack of playfulness, inability to laugh
  • loss of interest in normally pleasurable activities, inability to feel pleasure
  • prolonged grief after a loss
  • decreased self worth
  • reduced energy, fatigue
  • abnormal thoughts, excessive or inappropriate guilt
  • suicidal thoughts or attempts

If these symptoms persist every day for more than two weeks, depression well may be present.  Depression is an illness that can be treated by a health care provider or geriatric specialist.


Content adapted from and 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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