4 Tips for Caring for a Depressed Senior

Have you noticed changes in your aging parent or another elderly adult you care for? It may be depression. Depression in seniors is prevalent-and often overlooked. Contrary to common misconceptions, depression is not a normal part of aging.

As a caregiver, you are in an ideal position to make a difference to a senior who may be suffering from depression. Here's how you can help.

Recognize the symptoms and potential triggers. Depression in seniors may manifest in different ways (for example, lethargy) than in a younger person. Be alert for unexplained physical changes, or changes in behavior, thinking, or mood. They may be clues that he is depressed.

Loneliness and feeling isolated can trigger depression. Seniors often have co-existing medical conditions that cause pain or disability, and some medications can cause depression-like symptoms. If your loved one just lost a spouse or suffered another stressful life event, they are at risk of developing depression.

Get professional help. Encourage your loved one to see their primary care physician so you know for sure what's causing the changes. It's easy to confuse the symptoms of depression with dementia or medication side effects. Bring a list of medication, vitamins, or supplements she may be taking, along with information about any other health conditions.

If your physician diagnoses depression, she can make a recommendation to an appropriate mental health professional. Physicians tend to overlook depression in the elderly and don't regularly screen for depression. Get a second opinion if your physician is not responsive.

Depression can make a senior listless and they may be reluctant to seek medical attention. Make the appointment and accompany her if possible. Reassure her that depression is a real health condition and it is treatable. In addition to standard depression treatments such as antidepressants and in-person psychotherapy, there's increasing evidence that home-based interventions, such as telemedicine, may help those who cannot physically visit a mental health professional.

Stay involved. Schedule activities and social events for your loved one or plan your own outings together. Help with meals, transportation, and other chores.

Take it seriously. Depression is a very serious condition in the elderly and can take a toll on their health. Seniors are also at a much higher risk for suicide than the general population. In 2004, adults 65 and older accounted for 15 percent of all suicide deaths. Sadly, up to 75 percent visited their physician within a month of dying.


Agingcare.com. "Getting help for a depressed elderly senior." Web. http://www.agingcare.com/Featured-Stories/110498/Getting-Help-for-a-Depressed-Elderly-Senior.htm

Helpguide.org. "Depression in Older Adults and the Elderly." Web. http://www.helpguide.org/mental/depression_elderly.htm

Care.com. "Helping Seniors with Depression: Advice for families and caregivers." Web.


Barclay, Laurie MD. "Cognitive Behavioral Therapy May Be Effective for Elderly With Depression." Medscape Medical News. Web. processing....

 December 15, 2009. http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/713843

National Institutes of Health. National Institute of Mental Health. "Older Adults: Depression and Suicide Facts (Fact Sheet)." Web. 27 September 2010.