Harvard Mental Health Letter

Recognizing and treating depression in the elderly

Why it's so hard to diagnose; issues to consider when deciding about treatment.

Depression is sometimes viewed as a normal part of aging. It shouldn't be. Rates of depression vary widely, depending on elderly individuals' overall health and whether people still live independently.

Although estimates differ depending on how depression is defined, about 1% to 5% of elderly people living in the community suffer from depression, compared with about 12% of the elderly who are hospitalized, and about 14% of those who require health assistance at home. Various studies have found that 29% to 52% of elderly people living in nursing homes are depressed, as are 39% to 47% of those being treated for cancer, heart attack, or stroke.

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