Anxiety and Depression in Late Adulthood


Depression is an illness, that strikes all ages, all races and all genders-the elderly included.  Although depression is not a normal part of aging. Recent studies indicate that older adults are at high risk for the onset of anxiety/depression disorders. In fact, it is predicted that the growth in the aging population will have a significant impact on mental health service delivery systems, and they will soon become a large part of the client population among mental health professionals.

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Anxiety and Depression in Late Adulthood

          No matter how hard we try to avoid it.  Everyone will eventually, during some period in their lives, experience some unhappiness.  This unhappiness will more than likely present itself from an incident of a set back or a loss.  People will often associate these types of events with a feeling of pain or sorrow.  Although these feelings would be considered normal, appropriate and often necessary to begin the healing process, when an individual finds himself/herself in such a situation.  It is also important that the hurt feelings past successfully and completely and not linger.  However, when these feelings do linger and persist to the point where it begins to impair daily life.  It may be an indication and sign of the onset of depression.

          There is no single cause for depression that is known.  It is assumed however that depression is the result of a combination of things which involve genetics (inherited from parents), biochemical (bodily chemical processing), environmental, and psychological factors (stress).

          It is further known, that depression is an illness, and one that strikes all ages, all races, all genders and has no respect of person  in determining who it effects.  It should be to no one’s surprise than, with increased longevity among the aged.  That mental disorders are becoming more and more common among the elderly and that anxiety and depression among the elderly are not so uncommon today.  The physical, medical, and life changes that occur as we grow older can sometimes create feelings of sadness and depression.  With an increasing representation and growth in the aging population.

 There will be a significant impact on the  mental health services needed.  In fact, older adults will soon become a large part of the client population among professional psychologist ( Birren & Schaie, 2006 p. 407 ).

         Depression however, is not a normal part of the aging process.  In fact, studies show that most seniors feel satisfied with their lives despite their physical ailments.

         Regarrless of these findings though, further study indicates that there are certain factors that could contribute to the possible onset of anxiety and depression in late life.

These factors may include many, but findings suggest specifically that factors involving losses and exit events such as retirement, social isolation, and widowhood play a part.

Also, those factors involving mental and physical ailments such as Alzheimer, stroke, chronic pain and terminal illness are included on the list of candidates (McIntosh, Santos, Hubbard & Overholster, 1994  p.101 ).

        There are other areas that are vulnerable to the elderly that also have the potential to bring on the symptoms of anxiety and lead to depression.  These areas involve loss and change that are not often thought about as potential dangers for the elderly.  These things include loss of body parts, loss of mobility or simply the loss of the ordinary or familiar.  Loss of the familiar involves change (Purcell, 2006).  Consider the loss experienced by the elderly when moved to a nursing home.  This type of change and loss for the elderly often bring on grief and depression.  Elderly people may be particularly vulnerable to depression with the death of a spouse. Extreme loneliness for them may be factor also especially if close friends are dying also (Conner, 1998 to 2001).

 Change is not always an easy thing for the elderly.  For some elderly victims of depression another high risk factor is especially dangerous.  The risk of suicide. The rate of suicide for the older adult are higher than that of any other age group. The reasons for this vast discrepancy are associated with many underlying factors that the elderly are forces to deal with in later life. Although purely individual in outcomes, retirement for the elderly, especially white males, can bring about major changes.  These changes include loss of income, independence, decreased emotional and financial security, and a change in self image.  This change can also bring about feelings of worthlessness, uselessness, rejection, loss of self-esteem and loss of identity involving work roles can be also an issue.  Adapting and excepting the changes involved with retiring.  Would depend on how well one’s coping mechanisms and personality developed  during their life span.

Other influences that may be involved that could affect one’s coping ability to this type of major life change.  Would depend on the availability of the proper social support, economic issues, how well one prepared for retirement as far as savings, and their current health status at the time of retirement.  It is no wonder then, that just the anticipation of such a loss in the minds of some older adults.  Could easily provide the fertile ground for suicidal tendencies to develop (McIntosh, p 102).

     A second issue that could also allow suicidal tendencies to surface in elderly people would be widowhood and social isolation (McIntosh, p104).  As stated before, the elderly are particularly vulnerable when change involves the death of a spouse.

For these individuals, this type of major life event and loss could mark the beginning of extreme loneliness for them and become a major debilitating issue especially if close friends are dying also (Conner, 1998 to 2001).

        It has also been discovered that the onset of depression has raised havoc in other health areas for the elderly.  There are a number of ways that depression can affect one’s overall heath status.  Depression symptoms have been found to effect the cardiovascular system, especially in men.  However, it is thought to have  more profound negative effects on those individuals who already have existing cardiovascular disease (Birren & Schaie, 2006  p.92). Depression has also been noted to affect the eating habits of the elderly. Resulting in loss of appetite. This can prove to be very risky, due to the fact that an unhealthy weight loss can effect and speed  up the individual’s mortality rate.

Possibly causing an earlier than necessary death.

         In addition anxiety, possibly a prelude to the onset of depression in the elderly has also been found to affect the lives of this group. Increased anxiety can increase blood pressure and heart rates leading to myocardial infarction. This type of emotional distress can also cause the release of platelets, resulting decreased blood flow to the heart furthers promoting the chance for a heart attack to occur.

       With all of the vulnerabilities that face adults as they age. It would behoove the medical and mental professionals to realize the dangers associated with anxiety and depression when dealing with older clients. In an attempt to provide the best out come for their patients.  It is important to know the backgrounds and medical histories of each one. For it has often been said that in order for a psychologist to offer the best possible cure or remedy for the problems facing their clients. He or she must first know the past and from which mental direction the individual arrived at his doorstep from.  Without this prior knowledge the psychologist will be unable to get them where they should be,

        There are various remedies available to help those suffering with anxiety and depression. That would/could allow the psychologist to put an end to an individualssuffering.  In the end, it will all depend on finding what is best suited for that person’s particular set of circumstances.  Some of the remedies currently used include:

Antidepressant Medications

Exercise (aerobic training program- for stimulation) 30 minutes of Bright per day for institutionalized elders


        However, early prevention is preferred.  Early prevention focuses on early prescribed medications and psychotherapy to remit depression and prevent the serious consequences that follow (Blazer, 2003).


Birren, J.E. & Schaie, K.W. (Eds). (2006)  Handbook of the psychology

of aging (6th ed.). San Diego: Academic Press

Blazer, D.G. (2003). Depression in Late Life. Review and Commentary.

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on May 27 from University of the Rockies Website

– APA PsycArticles

Conner, M.G., PsyD (1998 to 2001) Understanding And Dealing With

Grief And The Loss Of Life. Retrieved on May 28, 2009 from http://

McIntosh, J.L.; Santos, J.F.; Hubbard, R.W.; Overholster, J.C. (1994).

Special High Risk Factors in Suicide Among Older Adults: Elder suicide: Research, theory and treatment (pp.101-131). Washington

D.C.                American Psychological association.xiii,260pp.(PsycINFO Database Record © 2008 APA. Retrieved on May 27, 2009 from University of the Rockies Website PsycArticles

Purcell, M. (2006). The Truth about Grief and Loss. Retrieved on may 25, 2009 from Http://

Vaillant, G.E. (2006). Aging Well. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.

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