FAQ - How Common is Depression in Seniors?

How common is depression among senior citizens?

Depression is more than feeling sad or "down." Depression affects our thinking, our emotions, our behavior and our physical health.  You might feel down, or empty. Some people have difficulty remembering, or can't make decisions like they once did. Many leisure activities just don't interest you any more. You have aches and pains that keep coming back, and your physician can't explain it. A depressed mood, with many of these symptoms, that goes on and on and on for weeks and months is called clinical depression.

Depression is also more than the feeling of grief you experience after losing someone you love. Following such a loss, for many people, a depressed mood is a normal reaction to grief. Some people find it helpful to join a mutual support group, such as a widowed-persons group, to talk with others experiencing similar feelings. But, if the grief does not go away within a few months, it may be depression. 

Clinical depression is a whole body disorder. It affects the way you think and the way you feel, both physically and emotionally. It isn't "normal" to feel depressed all the time when you get older. In fact, most older people feel satisfied with their lives. Nonetheless, among people 65 and over, as many as 3 out of 100 experience clinical depression. This is a serious problem, and can even lead to suicide. 

But there is good news. Nearly 80 percent of the people with clinical depression can be treated successfully with psychotherapy. Sometimes a combination of psychotherapy and medication works better, especially if you have very disturbed sleep, or can't get yourself out of bed to do anything.  Even the most serious depressions usually respond rapidly to the right treatment. But first, depression has to be recognized.