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Is It Grief, or Is It Depression?


“I’m worried about Charlie. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but he just seems down in a way that I haven’t seen before. Then again, Bea, his wife, died last year, and earlier this month, so did his niece. His health isn’t well either, so you could say that he has plenty to be sad about. Still, I’m not sure. Maybe it sounds overprotective, but I wonder if he’s dealing with depression. I don’t know what to think.”

It’s a sad fact of life that as we age, the losses we experience intensify in both importance and occurrence. The older we get, we’ll suffer a loss of our career, our health, our independence, even those we love. It’s completely normal to grieve, and the feelings of sadness that accompany grief can last a very long time. This is healthy. However, as you watch your loved one closely and see that he or she has lost all happiness, all hope, you have reason to be concerned.

Grief vs. Depression in Seniors

Telling the difference between clinical depression and grief can be tricky, since many of the symptoms of each are shared. There are ways, however, to tell the difference between the two. Here’s how the two behave in different ways:

With grief, there are a wide variety of emotions. There are a mix of bad days and good days. Even as your loved one grieves, they’ll have times where they are happy. They will still have moments of joy.

Depression, on the other hand, is a constant condition. Your loved one will display uninterrupted feelings of sadness, emptiness, despair.

Though there are no hard and fast rules for the length of time a person grieves, if you see that it is showing no improvement over time or blots out all signs of joy, it may be depression.

Here are a few other symptoms that may indicated depression, not just grief, is the culprit:

  • Intense feelings of guilt.
  • Constant thoughts of dying, or thoughts at all of suicide.
  • Feeling hopeless or worthless.
  • Slow speech and body movements.
  • Loss of function in daily living.
  • Hallucinations: seeing or hearing things that aren’t there.

It is vitally important that if you suspect your loved one is suffering from depression, an examination by a health care professional is scheduled as soon as possible. Often, an evaluation by the family physician is all that is needed to confirm or rule out the condition.

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Adriann Griffith
Adriann Griffith
Adriann has been blogging for Home Instead since the Baton Rouge blog's inception. She is an award-winning writer and a published poet. Adriann's particular passion is writing about Alzheimer's disease, embracing Proverbs 31:8, "Speak up for the people who have no voice."

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