Common Causes of Depression in Seniors

It’s important to understand the causes of depression in seniors because this illness occurs in 7% of the general older population. Despite what most of us think, depression doesn’t necessarily mean feeling sad. Many depressed seniors will tell you that they don’t feel sad at all. Instead, they complain of low motivation and a lack of energy. They also have trouble sleeping and are easily irritated.

Common Causes of Depression in Seniors

Personal Make-Up

  • Genes. People with a family history of depression may be more likely to become depressed than those who don’t have such a history. For example, if one identical twin has depression, the other has a 70 percent chance of having the illness sometime in life.
  • Personality. People with low self-esteem or are pessimistic seem to be more likely to experience depression.
  • Brain chemistry. Seniors who were depressed when younger are more at risk for developing depression in their senior years. People with depression may have different brain chemistry than those without the illness.

Health Problems

  • Illness. Chronic pain, cognitive decline, or body changes due to surgery or sickness can cause depression.
  • Medical conditions. Medical problems are one of the causes of depression in seniors. A medical condition that is painful, disabling, or life-threatening, can lead to depression. Examples of this include Parkinson’s disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and dementia. We also know that a deficiency in vitamin B12 can lead to depression.
  • Vascular Depression. Depression can also be related to changes in the brain and body as a person ages. For example, older adults sometimes suffer from restricted blood flow. This condition is known as ischemia. Over time, blood vessels stiffen and prevent blood from flowing normally to the body’s organs, including the brain.
  • Medication. Sometimes depression is a side effect of commonly prescribed drugs. Mood-related side effects of prescription medication can affect anyone, but seniors are more likely to feel these side effects. That’s because, as we age, our bodies become less efficient at metabolizing and processing drugs. Blood pressure medication, high-cholesterol drugs, tranquilizers, medication for Parkinson’s disease, ulcer medication and  steroids are examples of medications that can cause depression. Sometimes, symptoms of appear because a person is taking multiple prescriptions.


  • Loneliness. Factors such as living alone, a dwindling social circle due to deaths or relocation, decreased mobility due to illness or a loss of driving privileges can trigger depression.
  • Reduced sense of purpose. Retirement can bring with it a loss of identity, status, self-confidence, and financial security and increase the risk of depression.  Physical limitations on activities you used to enjoy can also impact your sense of purpose.
  • Loss. The death of friends, family members, and pets, or the loss of a spouse or partner are common causes of depression in older adults.

Depression is not a normal part of ageing. And it’s treatable, so if you suspect that someone you love is suffering from depression, reach out.