Recognizing the Signs and Symptoms of Geriatric Depression

Mar 29th, 2018

Identifying depression in older adults can be challenging because symptoms of the disease are often mistaken as typical signs of aging. However, geriatric depression is not typical, though it is treatable if diagnosed early and managed properly.

Nearly 90 percent of elderly adults struggling with depression do not receive adequate treatment. Left untreated, geriatric depression can worsen existing medical conditions and lead to higher rates of death and suicide.

To help you recognize the signs and symptoms of geriatric depression, our Oceans experts address some of the most common questions about the disease.

This content is designed to provide education about geriatric depression and is not meant to diagnose or treat a disease. If you think you or someone you know is experiencing a medical issue, including depression, contact a physician for help.

Q: What is “elderly or geriatric depression”?

A: Elderly or geriatric depression is depression affecting older adults. Though temporary sadness or feeling blue can be normal at any age, prolonged depression among this age group may be indicative of more serious issues. Often caused by medication used to treat other common problems or age-related issues, geriatric depression is sometimes erroneously thought to be a normal part of aging.

Q: How is geriatric depression different from other kinds of depression?

A: Unlike depression in younger adults, which is often related to genetics or social behaviors, geriatric depression may be a result of physical or environmental factors like chronic illness or isolation.

In addition, elderly adults often do not experience the same symptoms of depression as younger adults, which can make depression more difficult to diagnose. Instead of prolonged sadness or feeling blue, common in other forms of depression, geriatric depression sufferers may experience physical pain or confusion.

Because geriatric depression often occurs alongside other diseases or illnesses, it can last longer and impact a patient’s ability to heal quickly.

Q: What causes geriatric depression?

A: While there is no singular cause of depression at any age, depression in older adults is often brought on by chronic diseases and the medications used to treat them. Loneliness and isolation, loss of a spouse or friends, feeling purposeless or undergoing significant life change can bring on geriatric depression.

Q: What are some of the most common signs of geriatric depression?

A: Understanding when certain behaviors indicate depression and recognizing the signs and symptoms early can help patients receive treatment sooner and promote healing. Some of the most common physical and behavioral signs of geriatric depression include:

  • Persistent sadness, anxiousness or despair
  • Unexplained aches or pains that do not improve with medication
  • Sudden loss of weight or appetite
  • Lack of motivation or energy
  • Difficulty falling asleep or staying awake
  • Thoughts of suicide or previous attempts at suicide
  • Memory problems, forgetfulness or difficulty making decisions

Q: What medical conditions can promote depression?

A: Chronic medical conditions, especially those that are painful, debilitating or terminal, can cause or worsen depression in older adults. Depression can be brought on directly or as a result of coping with chronic illnesses, including:

  • Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
  • Stroke
  • Heart disease
  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Vitamin B12 deficiency
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • and others

Q: Are there other risk factors for developing geriatric depression?

A: In addition to age, there are a variety of factors that can contribute to the development of geriatric depression, including:

  • Low levels of important biochemicals like serotonin and norepinephrine
  • Traumatic life event, such as loss of a family member or spouse
  • Limited mobility or damage to body image due to illness or injury
  • Isolation or prolonged loneliness
  • Chronic medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, stroke, cancer, etc.
  • Fear of death
  • Chronic or severe pain
  • Substance abuse

Q: Can some types of medications make symptoms worse?

A: Depression symptoms can occur as a side effect of medications routinely used to treat medical conditions common in older adults. Though these side effects can impact anyone, older adults are more susceptible because they metabolize and process drugs less effectively than younger adults.

Medications that can cause or worsen geriatric depression include:

  • Blood pressure medications
  • Beta-blockers
  • High-cholesterol drugs
  • Anti-anxiety medications
  • Calcium-channel blockers
  • Sleeping pills
  • Ulcer medications
  • Heart drugs containing reserpine
  • Steroids
  • Painkillers and arthritis treatment
  • Estrogen

Doctors can often prescribe lower doses or alternate medications, which may help eliminate or reduce feelings of depression brought on by new medications.

Q: What treatment options are available?

A: Geriatric depression may be treated with medication, inpatient therapy or intensive outpatient counseling or other methods as deemed appropriate by a physician.

At Oceans Healthcare, we understand the challenges geriatric depression can bring to individuals and their families and caregivers. We focus on providing treatment for all aspects of depression and other mental and behavioral health diseases. Our inpatient treatment programs offer a safe, compassionate environment for patients at every stage of the healing process. As a recognized leader in behavioral health, we are committed to caring for patients and their families with dignity, honesty and compassion.

If you or someone you know may need treatment for geriatric depression, call an Oceans facility near you today.


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