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Could You Be Experiencing Depression and Not Even Know It?

By Julie Ambachew August 24, 2022 Health and Fitness

Everyone is susceptible to depression, but depression in older adults can be even more challenging to identify, especially as both symptoms and triggers vary greatly from when we were younger adults or even children.

For example, we are far more likely to experience the loss of close personal relationships, have a sudden change in our physical health, and even be more prone to loneliness as we age. For some older adults with depression, sadness is not their primary symptom. Instead, they may experience more numbness or disinterest in their routine and favorite activities.

What Is Depression?

Depression is a serious mood disorder that can affect the way people feel and think. It is often something people struggle with their entire lives. However, while common belief, being depressed is not a “normal” part of aging or something we should expect to experience as we get older.

This misconception can be shared by both professions and older adults themselves, leading to more frequent misdiagnosis or undertreatment of depression. Common symptoms may include:

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood
  • Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
  • Irritability, restlessness, or having trouble sitting still
  • Loss of interest in once pleasurable activities
  • Decreased energy levels
  • Eating more or less than usual
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Moving more slowly
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

What Are the Risk Factors for Depression?

While anyone may experience depression, some risk factors can help us stay more in tune with a person’s mental health and the likelihood they could be experiencing depression. For example:

  • Personal or family history of depression
  • Major life changes or transitions – from the death of a loved one to retirement, even moving away from family and friends
  • Increased isolation
  • Lack of exercise or recent change in physical abilities
  • Other new health conditions such as hearing or vision loss, speaking challenges, dementia or other cognitive impairment, etc.

Health Conditions and Depression

Those who live alone when facing a Covid diagnosis are even more likely to experience depression due to social distancing, self-isolation, and other changes from their normal, daily activities.

Other illnesses such as heart disease and cancer, or loss of functional capabilities can have a similar effect. Sometimes medications taken for these physical illnesses may cause side effects such as mood changes and mental status changes, which can contribute to depression.


There are many options and approaches for treating depression – from medicine to psychotherapy and counseling, and forms of brain stimulation. A combination of treatments may be used, and a doctor’s recommendation will depend on many factors including the type and severity of depression and overall health.

While there are many treatments available today, if you or someone you care about is in crisis, it is critical to seek help immediately.

  • Call 911.
  • Visit a nearby emergency department or your health care provider’s office.
  • Call the toll-free, 24-hour hotline of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255); TTY: 1-800-799-4TTY (4889) to talk to a trained counselor.

If you have noticed ongoing signs of depression in yourself or a loved one, but do not believe it to be a crisis, it is still extremely important to reach out to a healthcare provider to seek medical attention as soon as possible. The sooner you can determine the right diagnosis, the sooner, help can be available.

The mental health of older adults is just as important as physical health. If you or someone you know may be experiencing depression, seek out people or resources who can offer support.

What does mental health mean to you? What are you doing on a regular basis to stay connected to your friends, family, and community? If you have experienced depression in the past, what support system do you have in place to help you if symptoms reoccur?

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The Author

As Director of Clinical Services at Aegis Living, Julie oversees the clinical care of 2,500 senior living residents and a team of health services directors across 34 communities. Julie is a registered nurse, known for building strong clinical and care teams who help older adults live their lives to the fullest.

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