Signs: Watch for symptoms of depression among seniors. *iStock photo
Signs: Watch for symptoms of depression among seniors. *iStock photo

Health education and disease prevention is the key to keeping older adults active and independent.

As we enter into another season of uncertainty about the economy, especially in terms of finances, many seniors will face moments of sadness, anxiety, helplessness, loneliness or depression.

These sensations are usually normal ones that sometimes occur in life. They can be the result of having a particularly challenging event take place, or the simple process of ageing where a senior feels that he or she can no longer care for themselves.

Adjusting to these ongoing changes may trigger or be related to depression.

Because depression in seniors is often rooted in stress and change, the most visible symptoms may present themselves as more akin to anxiety.

Worry about apparently ‘small’ changes could indicate an underlying sense of sadness related to experiencing more change or loss.

Fear, most commonly associated with anxiety, may be related to feelings of hopelessness developing from depression.

This depression-related sense of hopelessness or feelings of helplessness may also be expressed as irritability or restlessness.

Depression carries with it a sense of powerlessness as the senior experiences its debilitating effects.

This sense of a lack of power can be magnified by changing personal capabilities and increased reliance on others.

Seniors may compensate for this depression-related experience by developing preoccupations and repeated ruminations about domains of life that represent a sense of personal power and capability.

Preoccupations with personal finances and health are common themes.

Although the increase in medical problems that comes with ageing can be the source of depression, some complaints of physical problems are an expression of how depression is aggravating or magnifying health problems.

Hopelessness

Also, unexplained complaints of physical problems that seem to have no medical basis may be a manifestation of depression.

Common complaints include fatigue, muscle aches/tension and headaches.

It is also important to consider the possibility that medications may have a side-effect of creating depression. This possibility should be assessed by a physician.

Although symptoms of depression in seniors often manifest in anxiety, preoccupation and physical complaints, it is not uncommon for seniors to show the usual symptoms of depression. 

These symptoms include feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. Behavioural manifestation includes reduced self-care and slower-than-usual movement.

Depressed people also experience a loss of interest in previously pleasurable activities and difficulties with memory.

Because some of these symptoms are a natural part of the ageing process (eg slowing of physical movement) it is important to measure these using a previously existing baseline of behaviour.

Sudden or rapid progression in these symptoms may indicate the onset of depression.

Seniors can sometimes become the forgotten people in our society or the ‘elephant in the room’.

If you are the child, friend, family member, pastor or caregiver of a senior, and they are displaying behaviours which are uncharacteristic of them, seek medical help immediately.