By Al Brandenburg

Depression is not a normal part of aging, but can develop in later years— and it can be dangerous.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that up to 5% of independent, older adults experience major depression, 11.5% of whom are hospitalized. In addition, 13.5% of seniors requiring home care live with this form of treatable mental illness.

Al Brandenburg Maricopa
Al Brandenburg

The senior years bring unique changes and challenges that can contribute to declining health. Health problems and aches and pains can limit activities and lead to isolation, both possible causes of major depressive disorder. It sometimes occurs along with a serious illness like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s. It can also be a side effect of medications taken for those illnesses and others, which worsen with age, as well as vision and hearing loss, according to the CDC.

The changes that come with aging, while not always negative, often result in a feeling of loss: the death of friends and family members, retirement, losing one’s sense of purpose, moving out of a lifelong home or loss of mobility and independence. Depression in older adults can not only make existing illnesses more severe, cause disability and loss of freedom, but suicidal behavior and death by suicide.


Signs of depression can be mistaken for typical aging. Here’s what to look for:

• Aches and pains
• Fatigue
• Irritability
• Despair
• Helplessness
• Hopelessness
• Lack of motivation

Depression in older adults is treatable with medication, therapy and lifestyle intervention. Families and friends helping an aging adult regain connection and a sense of importance goes a long way toward easing depression. Purpose and independence can be encouraged by:

• Fostering meaningful contact with others
• Volunteering
• Caring for a pet
• Learning a new skill
• Traveling with support and companionship

Al Brandenburg is a member of the Maricopa Senior Coalition.

Sources: AARP, National Institute on Aging,,,

This column appears in the May issue of InMaricopa magazine.