Out of the Shadows

Despite what many people may believe, depression is not a normal sign of aging, and help is available.

Older adults have an increased risk of developing depression, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Yet, the disease is often misdiagnosed—or overlooked completely—in aging populations.

The fact that depression sometimes affects older adults differently than younger adults may account for the diagnosis delay. Take a look at three factors that can stand in the way of depression treatment and learn what to watch for as you and your loved one’s age.

  1. Seniors with depression may have symptoms not usually associated with the illness. Sadness is not the most common symptom of depression in older adults, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that older adults may instead experience confusion, memory problems, weight loss, insomnia, and aches and pains. In fact, some seniors may only complain of pains or seem like they’re moving more slowly. Unsurprisingly, these symptoms are often mistaken for other health conditions.
  2. Stigma about mental illness may prevent older adults from seeking help. The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry published a study that found older adults perceive high levels of public stigma surrounding depression and seeking care. This—along with internalized stigma, which is especially prevalent in African-Americans—may prevent them from telling their physician about feelings of sadness and other depression symptoms.
    According to the study, 85 percent of respondents said they felt depressed within the days preceding the survey and 42 percent said they felt down or hopeless during at least seven of the previous 14 days. Yet, 56 percent had never seen a health professional for depression treatment, and only 18 percent were open to the idea of seeing a provider in the future.
  3. People go through many life changes during older adulthood, so it’s natural to sometimes feel sad or anxious. It’s normal for people to grieve the loss of a loved one or get upset following the diagnosis of a chronic medical condition. What distinguishes these natural feelings—whether they take the form of anger, sadness, anxiety or guilt—from clinical depression is the length. While symptoms related to grief or other changes ease over time, symptoms of depression can persist for months, according to NAMI.


nimh.nih.gov, cdc.gov, medlineplus.gov, familydoctor.org, ncoa.org, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov

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