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Many Americans are afraid of aging. While some cultures revere their aging population for their experience and wisdom, in America the story is far different. We’re bombarded with messages that say, younger is more beautiful, more intelligent, more relevant. Older adults in America are facing a growing issue, one that is often overlooked and undertreated. Older adults are at an increased risk for experiencing depression and have the highest suicide rates of any age group.

Early detection and treatment of mental health disorders in older adults is going to become even more critical, with 76 million baby boomers soon entering stages of late adulthood who are evidencing depressive disorders at significantly higher rates than previous groups. Unfortunately, as it stands now, health care providers sometimes mistake an older adult’s depressive symptoms as a reaction to illness or the life changes that are associated with old age (i.e., the death of friends and loved ones, experiencing chronic pain and illness, and having limited mobility, etc.). As a culture we need to become more informed about the signs and symptoms of depression as they relate to older adulthood.

While sadness, fatigue, sleep disturbances, social withdrawal, weight loss, increased substance use and fixation on death are common red flags for depression for those of all ages, many older adults who have depression report that they don’t feel sad. Here are some clues to look for in older adults who may deny feeling sad or depressed:

  • Unexplained aches and pains
  • Feelings of hopelessness or helplessness
  • Anxiety and worries
  • Memory problems
  • Lack of motivation and energy
  • Slowed movement and speech
  • Irritability
  • Loss of interest in socializing and hobbies
  • Neglecting personal care (skipping meals, forgetting meds, neglecting personal hygiene)

It’s important that older adults and the general community know how depression may present itself differently in the older adult population. Staying informed about signs and symptoms of depression is an important part we all can play in helping to get those who need it to treatment.



Depression in Older Adults and the Elderly. (n.d.). Retrieved March 23, 2015, from
Depression is Not a Normal Part of Growing Older. (2012, May 2). Retrieved March 23, 2015, from
Scogin, F. (n.d.). Depression and Suicide in Older Adults Resource Guide. Retrieved March 23, 2015, from
Suicide Rates Rise Significantly Amongst Baby Boomers, Study Finds. (n.d.). Retrieved March 23, 2015, from’A=0&template=/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=155799

Photo Credit: Katie Hickey