Depression as we age: How to recognize and overcome it

depression in older adults

depression in older adults

Depression is not a normal part of aging, but it’s a common problem. Depression in older adults is often dismissed or not detected. It’s blamed on the physical, social, and economic challenges of aging. But if depression isn’t treated, it can lead to a poor quality of life and even suicide.

Causes of depression

Depression has many causes. Some common causes of depression in older adults include:

  • Life changes
  • Loss of a loved one
  • Genetic factors
  • Side effect of high blood pressure or arthritis medications
  • Side effect of combining certain medicines
  • Thyroid problems
  • Stroke
  • Arthritis

Warning signs of depression

Keep an eye out for these warning signs:

  • Irritability
  • Excessive crying
  • Aches and pains that don’t respond to treatment
  • Sleeping problems
  • Eating problems (loss of appetite, weight gain or loss)
  • Trouble thinking, remembering, or making decisions
  • Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
  • Thoughts of death
  • Suicide attempts
  • Lasting sad, anxious, or “empty” mood
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in ordinary activities, including sex

Older adults and suicide

The suicide rate in older adults is higher than in any other age group.1 Suicide is rarely caused by one single event. Suicidal people often show warning signs. They may have had a recent loss or expect one. They may become preoccupied with death or take risks. Some may give away prized possessions or acquire a weapon.

If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, get help right away. And never dare someone to carry through with a suicide threat.

Getting help

Depression won’t just go away by itself. But it is a treatable disorder. Treatments can include medication, counselling, diet changes, and exercise. See your doctor to learn about treatment and get a referral to counselling. Community mental health centres often provide affordable treatment.

Ways to help yourself

Take steps to help yourself feel better:

  • Talk about your feelings with supportive family members and friends
  • Get involved in an activity that you enjoy
  • Avoid isolating yourself
  • Keep your daily routine
  • Exercise regularly
  • Eat a well-balanced diet
  • Avoid drinking alcohol

Where to get help

  • Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7) –
  • Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
  • Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7) –

If it’s an emergency and you feel like your or someone else is at risk, call 111.

Article provided by Cigna
1 Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, Fatal Injury Reports, National, Regional and State 1981 –2016