Depression and Anxiety In Older Adults: Signs & Symptoms

anxiety and depression in older adults

Depression in older adults

An older adult may be depressed if they feel extremely sad, low in energy, loss of appetite, lost interest or pleasure in their usual activities over a long period of time.  

It’s important to note that not everyone that experiences these symptoms are depressed, as it is normal to experience these feelings from time to time. Also, not every person who has depression will experience all of these symptoms.

It is more common for older adults with depression to present with more physical symptoms of depression. For example, they may complain about difficulty sleeping rather than sadness or low mood.

There may also be a difference in the language used when an older adult describes their depression. They may describe their ‘nerves’ instead of ‘sadness’.

Physical symptoms

  • Sleeping less or more than usual
  • Change or loss of appetite 
  • Feeling tired all the time
  • Memory problems
  • Slowed movement
  • Significant weight loss or weight gain
  • Digestive upsets or changes in bowel habits
  • Headaches, backaches or similar complaints
  • Pacing, agitation or hand wringing


  • Experience slowing down or restlessness
  • Neglecting responsibilities and self-care
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • A decline in daily functions, confusion, worrying and agitation
  • The inability to find pleasure in any activity
  • Difficulty motivating themselves
  • Out of character behaviour
  • Denial of feelings of depression as a defence mechanism


  • Loss of self-esteem
  • Negative thoughts
  • Suicidal thoughts that are persistent
  • Indecisiveness
  • Excessive concerns over finance
  • Perceived feelings of a change in their status within the family


  • Irritability and moodiness, which can present as being aggressive or angry
  • Hopelessness, sadness and emptiness
  • Feelings of being overwhelmed
  • Feeling guilty or worthless 

Anxiety in older adults

It is not always obvious to notice the symptoms of anxiety in older people as they often develop gradually and, given that we all experience some anxiety at some points in time, it can be hard to know when it is a cause for concern. Often older adults with anxiety will experience a range of symptoms. 

Below we have split the symptoms into similar categories used to describe depression:


  • Avoiding objects or situations that cause anxiety
  • Avoiding eye contact (Not being assertive)
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Startling easy
  • Urgers to perform certain rituals in a bid to relieve anxiety


  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Fear when facing certain objects, situations or events
  • Worried about physical symptoms (worrying symptoms is an undiagnosed medical problem)
  • Strong feelings of dread (fearing that something bad is going to happen)
  • Constantly feeling nervous and tense
  • Uncontrollable or overwhelming feelings of panic


  • Thoughts that they are going crazy
  • Thoughts that they can’t control themselves
  • Thoughts that they are going to die
  • Thoughts that people are judging them
  • Upsetting flashbacks or a traumatic event
  • Invasive thoughts that are difficult to ignore 

Physical symptoms

  • An increase in the heart rate
  • Tension and/or pain in the muscle
  • Numbness or tingling in the hands and feet
  • Feeling detached from physical surroundings or self
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Vomiting, nausea or pain in the stomach
  • Sweating and shaking
  • Feeling dizzy, lightheaded or faint
  • Hot or cold flushes

Dealing with anxiety and depression as an older adult can be challenging. If you or someone you care about is struggling with anxiety and/or depression, contact us today to discuss treatment options.