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Depression and older people

2-minute read

Although about 10 to 15 in every 100 older people experience depression, most are less likely than people in younger age groups to report depression. They may not even believe or accept that they are sad or depressed.

Depression in old age often goes undetected and may be wrongly attributed to age, dementia or poor health.

Signs of depression in adults over 65 may include unexplained physical symptoms, memory loss and behavioural changes.

Causes of depression in older people

The causes of depression in older people vary and depend on when the depression was first experienced.

If the person first experienced depression earlier in life, the likely causes will include genetic and personality factors and life experiences. If they first experienced it later in life, physical health problems may be the cause.

Social isolation and loneliness and personal loss are also common causes of depression in people aged over 65.

Treatment of depression in older people

Treatments for depression in old age are similar to the treatments given to other age groups, although they can differ in the way in which they are applied.

Age does not reduce the effectiveness of treatments for depression, although medication may take longer to work in older people. However, if depression in old age is left untreated it can have many adverse effects.

Lifestyle changes in mid-life may be the key to preventing depression in old age.

Where to get help

If you need help, talking to your doctor is a good place to start. If you’d like to find out more or talk to someone else, here are some organisations that can help:

  • MindSpot Clinic (anyone suffering from anxiety or depression) — call 1800 61 44 34.
  • Beyond Blue (anyone feeling depressed or anxious) — call 1300 22 4636 or chat online.
  • Black Dog Institute (people affected by depression and extreme mood swings) — online help.
  • Lifeline (anyone experiencing a crisis or thinking about suicide) — call 13 11 14 or chat online.
  • Suicide Call Back Service (anyone thinking about suicide) — call 1300 659 467.

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Last reviewed: February 2020

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