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The older generation grew up in a time when talking about feelings or their struggles just wasn’t the done thing.

There was also a great deal of stigma surrounding mental illness, which means that older people can find it very difficult to open up about depression. Here’s how you can help.

Statistics about older people and depression

According to Beyond Blue, between 10 and 15 per cent of older people experience depression and rates of depression among people living in residential aged care are believed to be even higher – sitting at around 35 per cent.

The real figures could be even higher again, as anecdotal research suggests that people over 65 can often be more hesitant to seek help for anxiety and depression, often ignoring symptoms over long periods of time and only seeking professional help when they reach a crisis point.

Risk factors for depression in older people

Anxiety and depression in older people may occur for different reasons, but physical illness or personal loss can be common triggers.

Beyond Blue lists the following factors that can increase an older person’s risk of developing anxiety or depression:

  • an increase in physical health problems and conditions, including cognitive impairment, heart disease and stroke
  • chronic pain
  • medication side-effects
  • losses that can come from increasing age, such as relationships, independence, work and income, self-worth, mobility and flexibility
  • social isolation
  • changes in living arrangements, such as moving from living independently to a care setting
  • admission to hospital
  • particular anniversaries and the memories they evoke.


What are the signs of depression in older people?

The signs of depression in the elderly may differ from depression among the general public and at times true depression can be overlooked and put down to part of the ageing process.

Some symptoms of depression in a senior person may include:

  • Restlessness or slowing down
  • Behaving out of character
  • Lack of motivation
  • Negative thoughts
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Neglecting responsibilities and self-care
  • Disinterest in activities they once thrived on.


Physical symptoms of depression and anxiety

According to Beyond Blue, older people can tend to present with more physical symptoms of depression or anxiety. For instance, an older person may complain of physical ailments and difficulty sleeping rather than complaints of sadness. They may also use alternative language to refer to their feelings, such as referring to their nerves, rather than anxiety or sadness.

Physical symptoms can include:
  • Digestive upsets, nausea, changes in bowel habits
  • Feeling tired all the time
  • Changes in sleeping patterns
  • Memory problems
  • Unexplained pain
  • Loss or change of appetite


How to have a conversation with an older person about depression

Acting as a family member or friend is the first step to helping an elderly loved one get the help they may need.

Often it can be difficult to broach the subject or start the conversation with your elderly loved one. You can start the conversation off by describing what you have noticed in a non-confrontational manner, out of love and concern.

This Beyond Blue video can help give you tips on starting the conversation:

Belinda Peters
Belinda brings more than 17 years experience in journalism to her role as Seasons Digital Content Writer. As our blog editor, Belinda will take the confusion out of aged care with entertaining and informative stories from across the aged care industry and our Seasons communities.
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