Depression is Not a Normal Part of Aging

Elderly Asian woman with a lost look on her face.

Depression is not just having "the blues," or the emotions we feel when grieving the loss of a loved one. It is a true medical condition that is treatable, like diabetes or hypertension.

Though depression is not a normal part of aging, older adults are at an increased risk for experiencing depression. Why? Depression is more common in people who have illnesses or whose function becomes limited. Additionally, healthcare providers may mistake an older adult’s symptoms of depression as just a natural reaction to illness or the life changes that may occur as we age, and therefore not see the depression as something to be treated.

How Do I Know If It’s Depression?

Someone who is depressed has feelings of sadness or anxiety that last for weeks at a time. He or she may also experience:

  • Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness and/or helplessness
  • Irritability, restlessness
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies that were once pleasurable
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details and making decisions
  • Insomnia, early–morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
  • Overeating or appetite loss
  • Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts
  • Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not get better, even with treatment

The good news is that the majority of older adults are not depressed. Some estimates of major depression in older people living in the community range from less than 1% to about 5% but rise to 13.5% in those who require home healthcare and to 11.5% in older hospital patients.

Older adults typically see an improvement in their symptoms when treated with antidepressant drugs, psychotherapy, or a combination of both. If you are concerned about a loved one being depressed, offer to go with him or her to see a health care provider to be diagnosed and treated.

How Do I Find Help?

If you or someone you care about is in crisis, please seek help immediately.

  • Call 911.
  • Visit a nearby emergency department or your health care provider’s office.
  • 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 talk to a trained counselor.