Recognizing Late-Life Depression


North Baldwin Infirmary Senior Behavioral Health

Posted on

Jul 12, 2022


Alabama - Gulf Coast

Recognizing Late-Life Depression


Dora spent much of her day in bed - in a heavy gray fog.  Many days, she let the phone and doorbell ring without answering them.  In the kitchen, dishes, mail, and trash piled up, but she was too weak to clean or care.


Excessive sleep and a lack of energy are warning signs of a serious but treatable disease called depression.

Older adults face increased risks for depression. Surprisingly this common illness frequently goes undetected and untreated in late life.



Recognizing Depression


“Coexisting medical conditions, complicated medication regimes, and painful losses sometimes mask the symptoms of depression in late life,” says Janet Linton, M.D, medical director of Senior Behavioral Health at Mobile Infirmary, located in Mobile, and North Baldwin Infirmary, located in Bay Minette. “Some of the most visible signs of depression,” Dr. Linton says, “are significant changes in appetite, sleep, and energy level.”


These symptoms should always be reported to your physician. A checklist of other warning signs of depression follows. If someone experiences a number of these symptoms for more than two weeks in a row, it is time to see a doctor.


Many people - especially those who grew up in times or places where mental health problems were viewed as personal, religious, or moral failings—have difficulty talking about the emotional symptoms of depression. “ You can start by talking to your doctor about your physical symptoms,” says Dr. Linton “then move on to changes in moods or thoughts.”


Getting Help


Many people first see their family doctors for help with depression. There are, however, many mental health specialists who also treat depression:




Counselors and therapists


To find a mental health specialist, contact your local hospital, community mental health center, or senior center.


A little preparation can make that first visit to the doctor or therapist go smoother:

Make a list of your symptoms.

Write down your questions.

Take a list of the medications you take and their dosages.


If you feel anxious about the appointment, ask someone to go with you. If possible, take notes during your visit. That way it will be easier to recall your doctor’s recommendations.


Treating Depression


Depression can be successfully treated at any age. The most effective treatments are medication and psychotherapy.


Medications for depression are safe and effective, with very few side effects. They help improve mood, sleep, appetite, energy, and concentration.


Psychotherapy is private counseling with a trained professional. It helps you overcome the effects depression has on your moods, thought, and relationships. These treatments may be used separately or in combination. “With proper treatment,” says Linton, “most people experience relief from the symptoms of depression within a few weeks.”


Warning Signs of Late-Life Depression


Physical Changes

  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Eating too much or too little
  • Feeling tired or slowed down
  • Restlessness, pacing, fidgeting
  • Persistent headaches, stomachaches, or chronic pain


Mood Changes

  • Sadness
  • Hopelessness
  • Helplessness
  • Tearfulness
  • Irritability


Thought Changes

  • Excessive worries
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
  • Loss of interest in hobbies
  • Preoccupation with death or dying

This article was submitted by Janet Linton, M.D., Medical Director Senior Behavioral Health at Mobile Infirmary and North Baldwin Infirmary.  For more information contact North Baldwin Infirmary at or 251-580-1770

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