Older adults frequently have to cope with major changes to their lifestyle. These changes can trigger depression. In elderly years, potentially traumatic life changes include:

  • Dependence on social services
  • Disability
  • Having to live on a fixed income
  • Illness
  • Loss of a spouse or partner
  • Moving into a new home
  • Retirement.

Geriatric depression, however, should not be viewed as an inevitable consequence of these major life changes. There are many steps that you can take to prevent depression in elderly years.

Treatment for geriatric depression symptoms might include a combination of antidepressant medication and psychotherapy. Electro-convulsive therapy (ECT) uses electrical currents to make changes in brain chemistry. This is considered to be one of the safest and most effective forms of treatment for severe or psychotic depression. It is usually reserved for patients who do not respond to medical treatments.

Many medical centers and large hospitals have special psychiatrists, known as psychogeriatricians, who are specifically trained to treat older adults who display geriatric depression symptoms.

Geriatric Depression Symptoms

Geriatric depression symptoms often go undetected, especially in seniors without a strong support network. Some people mistakenly believe that depression in elderly people is normal. Others mistake geriatric depression symptoms for those of:

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Dementia
  • Heart disease
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Stroke
  • Thyroid disorders.

Geriatric depression symptoms are also frequently dismissed as side effects of medication prescribed for another health problem.

Typical signs of depression in elderly people include:

  • Fatigue
  • Loss of interest in once-enjoyed activities
  • Loss of self-worth
  • Sadness
  • Sleep problems, either sleeping too little or too much
  • Social withdrawal
  • Substance abuse
  • Suicidal thoughts or feelings
  • Weight loss.

In cases of psychotic depression, delusion and hallucination are also common.

Medical Causes of Depression in Elderly

Many older people develop medical illnesses that can cause the onset of geriatric depression. Medical ailments that may trigger this condition include:

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Cancer
  • Chronic insomnia
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus
  • Vascular dementia.

Prescription drugs may also play a role in geriatric depression. It is not uncommon for older adults to take several medications at the same time. Research into drug interaction and the side effects of medication has found that a number of medications may cause or worsen geriatric depression symptoms. For instance, drugs for treating blood pressure, ulcers and Parkinson’s disease are known to aggravate or cause the onset of depression.

Geriatric Depression Assessment

Geriatric depression is usually identified using a self-report assessment called the Geriatric Depression Scale. This test comprises 30 yes-or-no questions about thought and behavior patterns. Although the Geriatric Depression Scale is helpful in identifying depression in elderly people, you should always get an accurate geriatric depression assessment from a licensed therapist or physician if you feel depressed.


Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders Staff. (2010). Geriatric depression scale. Retrieved April 19, 2010, from the Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders website: http://www.minddisorders.com/Flu-Inv/Geriatric-Depression-Scale.html.

McManamy, J. (2002). Depression in the elderly. Retrieved January 23, 2003, from the McMan website: www.mcmanweb.com/article-33.htm.

Royal College of Psychiatrists Staff. (2001). Depression in the elderly. Retrieved May 27, 2004, from the RCPsych website: www.rcpsych.ac.uk/info/help/depeld/index.asp.

Segal, J., Jaffe, J., Davies, P., and Smith, M. (2007). Depression in older adults and the elderly. Retrieved April 19, 2010, from the Help Guide website: http://helpguide.org/mental/depression_elderly.htm.

 Posted on : June 26, 2014