Depression in later life

Depression is widespread in older people and takes many forms. Often it is buried amongst a range of physical illnesses. That makes it difficult to diagnose and treat.

According to the WHO, depression is one of the most common psychiatric illnesses in people over 65 years of age. While the illness is no more common in older people than in younger people, it is more difficult to detect in them – and the number of older people with depression is rising.

Often undetected in older people

Depression is often concealed behind a mask of physical symptoms or anxiety-related troubles. Depressed older people often report non-specific symptoms such as loss of appetite or inexplicable gastro-intestinal complaints. They tend not to disclose that they are feeling low. It is often not even clear to them that they have the symptoms of depression and hence of an illness that requires treatment.

Many people think that a down mood is normal when you are older. That's why the illness is often not recognised and treated. However, the suicide rate of people with depression rises with increasing age, so it is particularly important to tackle it as early as possible.

Being depressed is nothing to be ashamed of

Older people can also be successfully treated for depression. The aim is to alleviate the symptoms, prevent their depression from leading to suicide, improve their ability to function properly, and help them develop strategies for coping with their infirmities and limitations.

Important for people affected by depression:

  • If you suspect you might be depressed, contact your family doctor or go straight to a psychiatrist or psychologist. Speak openly about your emotional problems.
  • Don't keep your problems to yourself. Share them with members of your family, or discuss them in self-help groups.
  • Depression should never be confused with failure; it is a medical condition.
  • Have patience with yourself, and don't expect too much from yourself while you’re depressed.
  • Bear in mind that medication for depression often does not take effect for two to three weeks.
  • Try to work out together with your therapist how you can actively contribute to the healing process.

Important for family members:

  • Depression is not a sign of weakness; it is an illness requiring treatment.
  • Be patient and understanding during this difficult phase.
  • Make sure that you do not neglect your own physical and emotional well-being.