Depression belongs next to that dementia among the most common psychic Diseases in old age. The good news: Age depressions are often curable. The successful treatment goes hand in hand with knowledge of the disease, its symptoms and healing methods. Here we provide you with comprehensive information on the subject and gives you practical tips on how to deal with those affected.

Depression is a psychological disorder that negatively changes a person’s emotional world. Joylessness, dejection, and listlessness are strong symptoms of depression. Depression shouldn’t be confused with a bad mood or sadness. Also, grief over the death of a loved one does not automatically lead to depression. Sadness is a temporary state, so to speak, emotional depression and that is a natural part of our life.

The quality of life of a depressed person, on the other hand, is significantly reduced over a long period of time. Depressed patients aged 60 and over are referred to as age depression or depression in old age.

It used to be assumed that the number of people suffering from depression declined with age. In fact, the opposite has been found: Age depression occurs in 14 percent of 70 to 74-year-olds. For those over 80, it is even 42 percent. Women are affected twice as often as men on average.

Symptoms of old age depression

Since age depression has a variety of causes and can appear at the same time as other diseases, it is difficult to draw a typical clinical picture. In addition to the feelings of depression and listlessness, those affected often feel helpless and hopeless. In many cases, people who are depressed suffer from strong feelings of inferiority and guilt.

In addition, there is a lack of concentration, irritability and suicidal thoughts. Affected people sometimes describe depression as a “feeling of numbness”.There are also age-typical characteristics of depression. Mental disorders in old age are often not the only illnesses in patients that require treatment. Many seniors also struggle with physical ailments. Very often there is a connection between physical illnesses and functional restrictions. Sick seniors tend to perceive existing problems as threatening much more than younger sick people.

While in younger people. For example, if work-related problems are the focus, 90 percent of the elderly suffer from physical symptoms when they are depressed. In many cases, these complaints are of a psychosomatic nature, i.e. negative emotions are expressed through physical complaints. Conversely, physical suffering can also have psychological effects. This can happen, for example, when people are restricted in their mobility and can no longer go out of the house alone and as a result sit lonely at home and become depressed.

The following physical conditions can be signs of a depressed mood change in the elderly:

  • a headache
  • Back pain and pain in the limbs
  • Dizzy spells
  • Gastrointestinal complaints, especially constipation
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Breathing problems
  • “Tingling” in the body
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss (Malnutrition)
  • sleep disorders
  • fatigue
  • Inner unrest

These ailments are not just symptoms of depression, they are also one of the classic symptoms of aging. So if older people have insomnia, it does not automatically mean they are depressed. But don’t immediately rule out the possibility of depression. If those affected are solely concerned with alleviating the physical symptoms, an emotional change in mood can creep in the background. Therefore, pay attention to the typical signs of depression. The main symptoms of depression are mental health problems. These include:

  • listlessness
  • Listlessness
  • Decreased feeling of joy
  • Little interest in other people
  • Withdrawal from the social environment
  • Sudden crying
  • Self-doubt
  • The feeling that one is worthless and that one does not deserve good
  • Suicidal ideation
  • In severe depression: hallucinations and delusions

Depression of old age: Differentiating it from dementia

The interplay between depression and dementia as well as other organic brain diseases is complex and not yet fully explored. Symptoms such as memory disorders caused by depression can be very similar to dementia. Difficulty thinking and speaking, and difficulty concentrating, are typical symptoms of both dementia and depression.

Affected people have problems formulating sentences or following a train of thought. They often have the feeling that speaking is “slowed down” or “blocked”. Such situations quickly overwhelm those affected, which can be seen in answers such as “ I don’t know ”.

The classification of the symptoms of old age depression and the differentiation from other diseases is very important. While people with dementia are often disoriented and can no longer specify the date and time, depressives are usually not disoriented.

Causes of Age Depression

What exactly triggers age depression is unclear. Scientific studies indicate that there are two basic causes that can cause depression in old age: As a rule, psychosocial and neurobiological factors play a role in the sick. Most of the time, both factors are present at the same time.

Hormonal disorders

In some people, it happens that certain hormones and messenger substances in the brain are missing or there are too few of them. This leads to an imbalance, which disrupts the transmission of signals. The “happiness hormone” serotonin plays a major role here.

Genetic makeup

Our genes determine whether we have green or blue eyes. It looks very similar to our tendency towards melancholy. Some people are born with genes that increase the risk of developing depression. People whose mother or father has depression are at higher risk of becoming depressed themselves.


Depressive syndromes can be caused by  Medication administration or caused by changes in medication. Certain medications increase the risk of depression and pain. These include antihypertensive agents, anti-inflammatory agents, hormone preparations, allergy drugs, drugs against Parkinson’s, Anti-cancer drugs and sedatives.

Traumatic experiences

Difficult living conditions can mean that depression sometimes takes years to break out.

It is possible that traumatic experiences in childhood can trigger depression in adulthood. People who experienced World War II and the post-war period as children and adolescents often suffer from terrible experiences to this day. What often happens: those affected seem to live their lives for years without symptoms of a mental illness. In old age, the traumatic memories and feelings boil up again: War experiences, a hail of bombs, burials or rape are relived in the form of flashbacks.

Old age depression: treatment

Treating depression is just as important in the elderly as it is in younger people. Many people today, including doctors and therapists, unfortunately still assume that it is normal for people to withdraw in old age, sleep worse, give up their hobbies or experience less joy in life. The opposite is the case: studies show that life satisfaction tends to increase with age.

Older people have the ability to be satisfied despite their limited possibilities. Against the background of life as a whole, older people can look at what has been achieved and experienced and better control feelings.

In the treatment of depression, both drug treatment as well psychotherapeutic procedures proved to be effective.

1. Treat age depression with medication

Sometimes the brains of people with depression stop working the way they did before. The cause is often a hormonal imbalance in the brain. The hormonal balance can be restored by taking medication such as antidepressants.

2. Treat age depression with psychotherapy

Psychotherapy has proven for the elderly as a very effective way to treat depression. It should be performed by a psychological or medical psychotherapist who specializes in the treatment of the elderly. The therapy uses various methods in order to treat the individual psychological problems as precisely as possible. Life issues such as

  • Fear of disability
  • Dependency
  • loneliness

Addiction and the Elimination of everyday structures discussed. For many older people, these issues are very present in their everyday lives.

To support this, therapists often use a weekly schedule in which the patient can note his mood, occupation, and special events. This helps both the person concerned and the treating therapist to observe certain behaviors and, if necessary, to question them. The weekly plan can also help to counteract the typical loss of activity and interest and to work out an active daily structure.