Symptoms of Depression in the Elderly

Depression versus grief
Symptoms of depression are often a normal reaction to loss in the elderly, says Kathleen Buckwalter, PhD, RN, professor of gerontological nursing research at the University of Iowa. "When older people lose a friend or relative, they cry, they feel sad, they feel lost, and lonely, out of sorts, or like there's no point in going on," she says. They may even lose their appetite, lose weight, and develop insomnia. These are normal responses.

However, if grief triggers severe feelings of worthlessness, psychomotor retardation (slowing of movements and thoughts), psychotic symptoms (delusions or hallucinations), or impairment in their ability to function, it is critical to seek professional mental health help.

Depression masquerades as illness
Symptoms such as extreme fatigue and sluggishness, frequent headaches and stomachaches, and chronic pain can be symptoms of other serious diseases. But they're also common symptoms of depression in older adults.

If you experience these or similar symptoms—or if an older loved one exhibits these symptoms—ask a doctor to test for depression. Other signs of depression include feeling nervous, empty, worthless, irritable, restless, unloved, or uninterested in activities, pursuits, or people you used to enjoy.

Some older people experience dysthymic disorder, sometimes called minor depression. It may be called minor, but as with full-blown depression, it can have a serious impact on your life. Minor depression can also worsen and become full-blown depression.
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Last Updated: May 08, 2008

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