Q: What is the most common mental health problem among older adults?

A: It is estimated that 20% of people age 55 or older experience some type of mental health concern. The most common conditions include anxiety, severe cognitive impairment and mood disorders. Depression is a type of mood disorder associated with distress and suffering and is the most prevalent mental health concern among older adults. Depression can lead to impairments in physical, mental and social functioning, and it may complicate the treatment of other chronic conditions.  Although the rate of adults with this mood disorder tends to increase with age, depression is not a normal part of growing older.

Recognizing depression

Depression is more than just a passing mood.  A depressed individual may experience persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness, and lose interest in activities they once enjoyed.  Aside from the outward emotional signs, people will often exhibit physical symptoms such as chronic pain or digestive issues. Other symptoms may include irritability, excessive worry or anxiety and phobias.

Risk factors for senior depression 

Loss of control or independence, physical illness, widowhood and loss of friends, impaired functional status, isolation and lack of a supportive social network can all put seniors at risk of depression. Even the changes that come with retirement can adversely affect the mental health of some individuals.


According to the CDC, 80% of depressive cases in older adults are treatable! In fact, there are highly effective treatments for depression in later life and most depressed older adults can (and will) improve dramatically with treatment. Treatments for depression include psychotherapy or counseling, medication, and a host of brain stimulation therapies. Unfortunately, depression in seniors is widely under-recognized and therefore often goes untreated.

Overcoming the stigma

It seems the stigma attached to mental illness is stronger and more powerful in the older population. Older people may therefore express their depressive symptoms in terms of physical complaints rather than traditional symptoms. This can delay the appropriate treatment, as doctors search for answers to a physical malady. If you (or someone you care about) are experiencing physical symptoms with no forthcoming explanations after many tests — consider asking your physician for a depression screening or referral to a mental health professional for further evaluation.

To learn more about depression and bolstering your mental health, join me for Senior Health Friday with Nurse Lisa on May 13 in Viera, when our special guest will be Tonya Dix with Circles of Care. RSVP online or call 321-751-6771.


One Senior Place is a marketplace for resources and provider of information, advice, care and on-site services for seniors and their families. Questions for this column are answered by professionals in nursing, social work, care management and in-home care. Send questions to, call 321-751-6771 or visit One Senior Place, The Experts in Aging.

Lisa Conway is a Registered Nurse and a Certified Care Manager for Senior Partner Care Services, Viera.