Depression in the Elderly

Types of Depression in Older Adults

The two most common types of depression in older adults are:
  • Major depressive disorder (also known as major depression or clinical depression)
  • Dysthymic disorder (dysthymia), a more long-term but less disabling condition.
Another common type of depression among older adults is "subsyndromal depression." This type of depression is less severe than major depression or dysthymia, but has clear symptoms of depression. Having subsyndromal depression may increase a person's risk of developing major depression. It is thought that more than 5 million older adults may have this subsyndromal depression.

Causes of Depression in the Elderly

The exact cause or causes of depression are not known. It most likely results from many factors, such as:
  • Family history
  • Life experiences
  • Environment.
Older adults with depression may have had it when they were younger, or they may have a family history of the illness. They may also be going through difficult life events, such as losing a loved one, a difficult relationship with a family member or friend, or financial troubles.
For older adults who experience depression for the first time later in life, other factors may be at play. The condition may be related to changes that occur in the brain and body as a person ages. For example, older adults may suffer from restricted blood flow, a condition called ischemia. Over time, blood vessels may harden and prevent blood from flowing normally to the body's organs, including the brain.
If this happens, an elderly person with no family history of depression may develop what some doctors call "vascular depression." Those with vascular depression also may be at risk for other vascular illnesses, such as heart disease or stroke.
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Mental Depression

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