Depression – elderly : Symptoms & Signs, Diagnosis & Tests

Symptoms & Signs

Symptoms of depression may not be easy to identify in older adults. Their symptoms are often ignored, or confused with other ailments common in the elderly, such as:

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Arthritis
  • Cancer
  • Dementia
  • Heart disease
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Stroke
  • Thyroid disorders

Symptoms of depression include:

  • Abnormal thoughts about death
  • Abnormal thoughts, excessive or inappropriate guilt
  • Aches and pains
  • Change in appetite (usually a loss of appetite)
  • Change in weight
    • Unintentional weight loss (most common)
    • Weight gain
  • Depressed or irritable mood
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Fatigue (tiredness or weariness)
  • Feelings of worthlessness or sadness
  • Irresponsible behavior
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in daily activities
  • Memory loss
  • Plans to commit suicide or actual suicide attempts
  • Temper, agitation
  • Thoughts about suicide
  • Trouble sleeping
    • Daytime sleepiness
    • Difficulty falling asleep (initial insomnia)
    • Waking up many times through the night (middle insomnia)
    • Waking up early in the morning (terminal insomnia)

If you have these symptoms every day for more than 2 weeks, you likely have depression.

Depression in the elderly may be hard to detect because of several factors. Symptoms such as fatigue, appetite loss, and trouble sleeping also can be part of the aging process or a medical condition.

An elderly person may only have a decrease in the ability to perform everyday activities.

Diagnosis & Tests

A physical exam will help determine if a medical illness is causing the depression. A psychological evaluation and other tests may be needed.

Blood tests may be done, including:

  • Blood differential
  • CBC
  • Liver or kidney function tests
  • Thyroid function tests


Review Date : 8/22/2008
Reviewed By : Timothy A. Rogge, MD, private practice in Psychiatry, Kirkland, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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