Many people, even physicians and health care professionals, believe that depression and anxiety are normal parts of the aging process. However, these mental health conditions are not a typical part of growing older.(1) In fact, according to the CDC, depression is found in 5% or less of senior citizens who do not require home health care or hospitalization. In those populations that do require extra care, rates of depression rise to under 14%.(1)
Because of the misconceptions surrounding mental health in the senior citizen community, depression and anxiety both often go undiagnosed and untreated in this population.(1) Properly recognizing and treating these conditions is essential for better health and a more enjoyable life.
Here’s a closer look at how to identify depression and anxiety in older adults.
Signs of Depression and Anxiety in Senior Citizens
It is true that some of the symptoms of anxiety and depression are also associated with other medical conditions, including dementia.(2) However, dementia symptoms have clear differences from depression alone. (3) This is why a thorough medical examination from an informed physician is crucial.
Mental health conditions like anxiety and depression come with many different symptoms. Let your doctor know if you or a loved one feel like you are experiencing signs of depression or anxiety, including:
- Difficulty making decisions or paying attention to tasks (1)
- Feeling jumpy or easily startled (2)
- Feeling overwhelmed, tense, fearful, or panicked (2)
- Mood changes, such as irritability or anger (1)
- Sleeping too much or too little, including frequent night time wakings (1)
- Loss of energy (1)
- Appetite changes (1)
- Suicidal thoughts or attempts (1)
- Headaches and other unexplained pains (1)
- Worries and intrusive thoughts (2)
- Loss of self-esteem (1, 2)
Not Everyone Experiences Depression or Anxiety in the Same Way
Older adults usually describe the symptoms of depression differently than younger adults or children. Senior citizens may be more likely to discuss physical complaints related to their depression rather than emotional complaints. (3) They are also more likely to have physical complications due to their mental health condition. This is especially true if the adult suffers from heart disease. (3) The stress of depression or anxiety is tough on the body and can make heart problems worse.(3)
While depression is not a usual part of aging, older adults do tend to have more situational triggers than younger adults. For instance, senior citizens are more likely to have serious health challenges and to experience isolation from others. (3) They are also more likely to worry about death and regularly face many personal losses.(3) These situations can raise the risk of depression or anxiety problems.(3)
Treating Depression and Anxiety in Senior Citizens
Seeing a medical professional for a complete evaluation should be the first step for a senior citizen experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression. Talk with your doctor about the difference between these mental health conditions and conditions that are common in older adults, such as dementia, heart disease, or Parkinson’s disease.(3) This way, you can rule out a medical condition that could be causing or exacerbating your symptoms.
The treatment options for senior citizens with anxiety or depression are similar to the treatment options for younger adults. Medication, therapy, and life changes can make a difference. When it comes to medication options, it’s important to avoid choices that interact with any other medication that you may be taking. Some medications, such as benzodiazepines, aren’t typically recommended for older adults.These medications could increase the risk of falls.(3)
Lifestyle changes can sometimes help improve symptoms. There is a great deal of research behind exercise, yoga, and mindfulness for mental health conditions. Older adults can also benefit from opportunities to socialize. (3) Volunteering or taking classes can help you to develop a community. (3) Writing your memoirs or even just journaling each day can help you see the purpose in your life. (3)
Comprehensive Assessments at NeuroBehavioral Associates
There are many resources available for older adults who are experiencing depression and anxiety. NeuroBehavioral Associates in Columbia, MD provides comprehensive neuropsychological assessments for adults and children of all ages. Our evaluations are designed for individuals with cognitive, learning, or neurodevelopmental differences. We offer a wealth of recommendations and referrals to guide families toward success.
Contact NeuroBehavioral Associates today to schedule an appointment or to learn more about our services.
- CDC. (n.d). Depression is Not a Normal Part of Growing Older | Alzheimer’s Disease and Healthy Aging | CDC. https://www.cdc.gov/aging/depression/index.html
- Beyond Blue. (n.d.). Beyond Blue. Retrieved October 1, 2021, from https://www.beyondblue.org.au/who-does-it-affect/older-people/signs-and-symptoms-of-depression-in-older-people
- Robinson, L. (2021, August 11). Depression in Older Adults. HelpGuide.Org. https://www.helpguide.org/articles/depression/depression-in-older-adults.htm