Is It Depression?


Has your aging parent recently lost interest in activities they used to enjoy? Have you noticed a change in their mood and behavior? These changes may cause you to start worrying about your loved one. You may even ask yourself “Is my aging parent depressed?” Depression is a common problem in elderly adults. This guide will provide you with information on how to identify and address depression in aging adults.


According to the Centers for Disease Control:

  • Up to 20 percent of Americans aged 55 and older experience mental health concerns.
  • The most common mental health issues faced by older Americans are depression, anxiety, Alzheimer’s, dementia and bipolar disorder.
  • Depression is the most prevalent mental health condition among elderly adults.
  • The percentage of elderly adults with symptoms of depression tends to increase with age.
  • Depressive disorders are frequently untreated among elderly Americans.
  • Depression and other mental illnesses can worsen or cause physical illness.
  • Mental illness can cause premature death.

Before you talk to your elderly parent about your concern, keep in mind there is a stigma that surrounds psychological symptoms and mental illness, particularly for their generation.


Identifying Depression

One way to determine if your loved one has depression is by using The Geriatric Depression Scale. It’s also available as an iPhone and Android app.

The following questions are a shortened version of The Geriatric Depression Scale. The answers next to the questions indicate if someone has the symptoms of depression.

Symptoms of Depression

If more than five of the above answers match your parent’s response, they are likely to be depressed and you should consider talking with a mental health professional. But before you do, could your parent’s depression or anxiety have an external cause?


Stimulating Mental Illness

Different types of illnesses can cause or stimulate the symptoms of mental illness.

  • Physical Illness. According to the World Health Organization, elderly adults with physical health conditions such as heart disease have higher rates of depression than those who are healthy. Some physical illnesses that can cause mental symptoms include osteoporosis, multiple sclerosis, myasthenia gravis, myopathies, Guillain-Barré Syndrome, polymyositis, periodic paralysis, hemochromatosis, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, candida, streptococcus, Lyme Disease, thyroid disease, hypoglycemia, and migraines.
  • Hearing and Vision Loss. The quality of communication diminishes, which can lead to depression, anxiety, and stress.
  • Diet. Deficiencies in DHEA, Vitamin D, iron, Omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, Vitamin B complex, folate, amino acids, zinc, iodine, and selenium may cause symptoms of depression.
  • Medication and Medication Interactions. Medications that may have psychological side effects include antihypertensives, reserpine, methyldopa, beta-blockers, oral contraceptives, steroids, histamine 2 blockers, cancer chemotherapy agents, vinca alkaloids, procarbazine, L-asparaginase, amphotericin, Interferon, cimetidine, and proton pump inhibitors. 
  • Environmental Toxins. Cadmium, pesticides, mercury, lead, and mold have all been connected to depression. 
  • Lack of Exercise and Sitting. Not getting enough movement has been linked to symptoms of depression.
  • Loneliness. This may lead to depression, social anxiety, addiction, and hoarding. 

Before making an appointment with your loved one’s doctor, you may want to call them to discuss the issues your elderly parent is experiencing. (Note: It might be necessary to have a health care proxy in place to speak with your loved one’s doctor.) An alternative is to consider a geriatric psychiatrist, who is specially trained to deal with psychiatric symptoms displayed by older people.

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Promoting Mental Health

The World Health Organization (WHO) advises that it’s not only important to treat psychological problems, but it’s also important to promote mental health before problems develop.

“Promoting mental health for elderly adults involve creating living conditions and environments that support well-being and allow people to lead healthy and integrated lifestyles.” 

The WHO suggests strategies that ensure:

  • Security and freedom
  • Adequate and safe housing
  • Social support for elderly populations and their caregivers
  • Health and social programs targeted at vulnerable groups such as those who live alone
  • Programs to prevent and deal with elderly abuse or neglect.
Examples of successful strategies to help with depression include:
  • Frequent and effective communication, preferably in person
  • Socializing with friends and family
  • Participating in religious groups or other organizations
  • Physical activity
  • Nutritious meals
  • A residence specially designed for the needs of an older adult
  • Caregiver interaction with health team.

By engaging in strategies to promote mental health, you may be able to prevent problems before they start.

Although, you may still feel like you’re unable to balance the needs of caregiving for your elderly parent.

Consider Assisted Living

Assisted living communities provide loving care and assistance with daily activities and medication to elderly adults who have difficulty with memory or mobility. You may think to yourself “My parent would never consider assisted living!” You’re not alone.

Gain insight from people who’ve been in the same situation by reading the eBook How to Persuade Your Aging Parents to Consider Assisted Living. It provides information on how assisted living can benefit your parent, and it also offers tips on:

  • How to communicate better with your parent
  • How to answer your parent’s questions
  • How to earn your parent’s trust
  • How to work with a trusted friend to communicate.

Help your elderly parent stay mentally healthy by looking for any symptoms of depression and keeping them living an active, healthy lifestyle.

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CDC: The State of Mental Health and Aging in America:

The Geriatric Depression Scale:

Effect of a Family-Oriented Communication Skills Training Program on Depression, Anxiety, and Stress in Older Adults: A Randomized Clinical Trial:

Huffington Post: Sitting, Lack Of Exercise Linked With Symptoms Of Depression:

Everyday Health: 10 Nutritional Deficiencies That May Cause Depression:

The Arbors: eBook: Learn How to Persuade Your Parents to Consider Assisted Living: