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Treating depression in later life

Posted on Thursday, 12 January 2012, in Treatments & Therapy

What is ‘Depression in later life’?

Symptoms and treatment of later-life depression

Depression is the No.1 mental health problem and ‘depression in later life’ or ‘late-life depression’ is particularly common. Bereavement and ill health are natural triggers for depression among the elderly, especially as the mood-lifting and therapeutic behaviours of social and family interaction may have waned.

However, late-life depression should not be thought of as ‘normal’ or ‘inevitable’ and can be successfully treated. Unfortunately, the stereotype of a ‘grumpy old man/woman’ is so ingrained that both doctors and families often fail to see depressive behaviour as a symptom of a real and common illness.

Risk factors for late-life depression

Risk factors include a history of depression, chronic illness, alcohol or medication abuse, being single or divorced, brain disease and stressful life events – the death of a spouse being the most significant.

What are the symptoms of late-life depression?

People with clinical depression will generally show a combination of some of the following symptoms:

  • Depressed mood
  • Memory impairment
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Lack of interest or pleasure in activities
  • Guilt and feelings of worthlessness
  • Lack of energy
  • Loss of concentration and difficulty making decisions
  • Anorexia or weight loss
  • Involuntary or purposeless movements
  • A slowing down of thought and physical activity
  • Suicidal feelings


Depression and memory loss

An individual suffering from depression will typically be less focused on passing events and will simply be less effective at processing them as memories. In addition, a depressed person will tend to recall the more negative memories that have processed – giving the impression of memory loss.

If you think you may need treatment,
call us to arrange a private consultation.

0203 326 9160


Why a specialist diagnosis is so important for late-life depression

Elderly sufferers usually don’t express their condition as depression. They may appear to have a physical condition such as insomnia, anorexia and fatigue, or they may simply blame their mood on external factors such as a friend’s death or a lack of mobility.

Because there is no reliable diagnostic test, a careful clinical evaluation is essential. The individual’s medical history needs to be taken into account, as there are many medications that can cause depression.

A link between depression and dementia?

It’s not uncommon for people with late-life depression to also have dementia, and there is now evidence that late-life depression could actually be an early manifestation of dementia. Whether or not treating the depression may have any effect on the development of dementia is still unknown.

Treatment for late-life depression

Overall, there is reason for optimism. Depression in later life can be successfully treated with appropriate antidepressants suitable for use with geriatric patients, with best results coming from an approach that combines medication and psychotherapy. Best results are achieved with longer periods of therapy than are generally required by younger patients. Full recovery usually takes six to twelve months.

How Clinical Partners can help

Simply call our clinical team in confidence on 0203 326 9160 and we will recommend the most suitable therapist or support group for your individual situation.

Read more about how we can support you with depression in later life.


Emilie Head

Emilie Head Business Development and Content Editor BA(Hons), ACMA, MBACP

Emilie has three main roles at Clinical Partners – managing our NHS Partnerships, developing the services our Clinicians offer and writing and editing web content.

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