Psychological Development Across the Lifespan

Later Adulthood (60 and Older)

Is depression more common in later life than at younger ages?

Depression is actually less common in later life than at younger ages but is arguably more debilitating when it does occur. Adults in late life incur a significant amount of losses, including their job, health, and status and role in society. They also suffer the death of loved ones. Such losses can certainly precipitate depression. Additionally, medical conditions that are more frequent in late life, such as stroke and dementia, can cause depressive symptoms. The nature of geriatric depression is somewhat different from that found in younger people.

Elderly people often express their depression through somatic complaints (complaints about physical problems) and frequently have sleep problems and markedly reduced energy, initiative, and appetite. Sometimes there is considerable weight loss. The resulting self-neglect can put the elderly depressed person in real danger. Likewise, suicide is a serious problem. In fact, the risk of suicide is five times higher in white men over the age of sixty-five than in the general population. Nonetheless, despite their exposure to multiple losses, in general, the elderly have a lower rate of depression than do younger groups. This has been attributed to the greater emotion regulation and coping skills of older adults.


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