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Depression in old age: causes, detection, therapy and advice

Depression in old age: causes, detection, therapy and advice

October 1, 2022

Old age is a stage in the development of human beings full of neoformations and crises that many people have difficulties coping with. Old age is associated in our culture as the stage of progressive decline of cognitive ability , as well as the period in which the cessation of working life occurs.

As well this vital stage is linked to the progressive deterioration of the family role , because in some cases the elderly can decide to leave to live away from their relatives to places to retire to rest, to meditate or to live pending some task that pleases them.

Depression in old age

Also, old age is usually a stage of emotional difficulties as changes not only occur in the social, work or family, but also appear some chronic diseases such as migraines, muscle pain, rheumatism, loss of sight and hearing. Psychological disorders and mental faculties are evident in many cases, with symptoms of dementia, anxiety attacks and depression.


Precisely, one of the affective disorders that most frequently occur in old age is the depression . The WHO states that more than one 20% of people over the age of 60 suffer from some type of depression , figure that in the next 5 years will increase according to different studies. Depression in old age is, therefore, a psychological disorder that mobilizes the efforts of the scientific community to try to decrease the rate of those affected.

Theories about the elderly: detecting the factors of depression in old age

The Theory of the Psychosocial Development of Erik Erikson (1975) raises the stage of old age as the stage of crisis between the integrity of the self and the despair , which shows the need to positively influence the psychological health of the elderly so that they can face their time with greater well-being.


Many people conceive of old age as a limiting stage and degradation because it is no longer possible to carry out the same activities as before, adding this factor to loneliness caused by the death of loved ones, precarious economic levels, lack of activity and isolation are some of the triggers that can cause depression in old age.

The residences or welfare homes receive dozens of elderly people who are victims of depression every year, this being the second most prevalent disorder after dementia. Although the vast majority of family members tend to understand that residences may offer a better medical and psychological follow-up to their elders, there are few who are next to their grandfather at this stage.

Old age means adapting to new changes, to a new lifestyle . It is the total consummation of the experiences learned in the course of the human walk, a source of knowledge and also a stage of experiences and yearnings for the years that were left in the past, and that is why when we talk about depression in old age we must Keep in mind that one should not confuse the symptoms of one's own with the states of sadness and melancholy, which are mostly mild and temporary and are very common in this cycle. Not so, depression is a disorder that has a prolonged duration and a symptomatology that indicates that there is a background disease that must be treated.


Clinic of depression in old age

Depression at this stage can be presented in a covert manner, as Morice Caballero (2000) indicates, stating:

"Depression usually appears under the guise of a paranoid picture or is hidden in insomnia, pain, or other symptoms that are difficult to integrate into a nosological picture."

For an accurate diagnosis, it must be done integrating a medical, neurological and psychological assessment . The first one helps us to confirm or rule out some type of anomaly that may exist and that influences the mood of the elderly, the second, to delve into the field of the nervous system in order to rule out any alteration in the brain regions, or dementia .

The psychological intervention will depend on the context in which the therapy should be developed. Occasionally, work will become difficult because of the complexity of managing this type of case and the slowness in achieving results. Many professionals agree that, rather than a specialty of psychology, psychogerontology is an act of service that not all mental health professionals are trained to perform, because of the difficulty involved and the exceptionality of each case.

How to help and intervene an older adult with depression?

a) Each person is different and as such you have to be prepared for any peculiarity that may require help towards an older person with depression . It should be remembered that at this stage it is common for patients to refuse to follow any type of treatment, be it medical or psychological. In these cases, it is best to advise him patiently so that he can follow some type of treatment, and accompany him during the same with the help of a family member.

b) Help keep appointments with the psychologist in mind and, in case pharmacological therapy has been recommended (which in most cases is necessary), be vigilant on the days when it is necessary for the elderly to take their medications.

c) Perform activities that are pleasurable, such as going for a walk, reading a book, listening to music , etc. The important thing is to keep the mind working with activities that are helpful and learning in order to preserve their cognitive and physical abilities.

Old age is a cycle that we all have to go through, so we must be prepared to face the healthiest way. Old age should not be a stage of uncertainty and deterioration, but a stage that the person can realize in the contact with his family, his friendships and his daily life .

Bibliographic references:

  • Erikson, E.H. (1975). Life History and the Historical Moment. New York: Norton.
  • Morice Caballero, M.L. (2000). Practical topics in Geriatrics and Gerontology. Volume I

Depression: A Student's Perspective (October 2022).


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