Depression is a common condition seen in seniors. It was originally thought that depression was more common in seniors and it was harder to treat. Some people even thought that becoming depressed was just a normal part of getting older. In reality, about 5% to 15% of older adults (60 years of age and above) living in the community suffer from depression.

Like younger people, depression in older adults has been linked to many other diseases. Seniors with depression are:

  • unable to do their normal activities (impaired functioning)
  • more likely to have thoughts of suicide
  • more likely to need health care services than a senior who is not depressed

Depression is under-diagnosed and undertreated in seniors. One of the biggest concerns is many seniors do not talk to their doctor about their depression. Some seniors are not able to or are reluctant to talk about any mental health concern and just focus on other physical concerns like heart disease, diabetes, or asthma. Many seniors also have other medical conditions and medications that can make diagnosing depression more challenging for their doctor.

Treatment of depression in the elderly is almost the same as treatment for younger people. One type of therapy that has been shown to help in seniors is called cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). With CBT, seniors with depression work with a therapist to help change the negative thoughts and behaviours that perpetuate depression. Some families prefer these therapies because it is a medication-free alternative.

Many commonly used antidepressants are safe and effective for seniors. One of the biggest concerns is other medical conditions and medications. Your doctor will work with you to find an antidepressant that has the lowest amount of side effects and interactions with your other medications. Depression experts recommend that seniors use lower doses of antidepressants to start than younger people, and that they stay on them for at least 2 years after the symptoms of depression go away.

If you have a family member or loved one that has symptoms of depression, remember:

  • Depression is not a normal part of getting older.
  • It is linked to major health issues.
  • They need to talk to their doctor.
  • There are many good treatments to help.