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What to Do if You Suspect Your Elderly Parent Has Depression

Depression is more common than most people think. According to the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH), roughly 5 percent of the world's population suffers from depression every year. That's the equivalent of 350 million people. Older adults are at higher risk for developing depression or related symptoms, due largely to the prevalence of chronic illness in their old age. What should you do if you suspect your elderly parent is depressed?

Signs and Symptoms

The first step is to understand the common symptoms of depression in the elderly. It is important to note that these symptoms won't be the same for everyone, but they are the most common complaints in older adults with depression. These include:

·         Changes in Attitude: Normally calm and pleasant people suddenly acting irritable suggests a mood change that can indicate depression.
·         Pride in Appearance: Most elderly individuals take pride in their appearance. If your parent suddenly stops caring about how he or she looks, it can be an indicator of depression.
·         Increased Pain: Depression doesn’t just affect the moods and emotions. It can and does also affect the body, often amplifying pain or other symptoms.
·         Antisocial behavior: Is your elderly parent usually the life of the party, but suddenly doesn't even want to leave their room? Social withdrawal is another common symptom of elderly depression.

These symptoms can also be exacerbated by a recent medical event, such as illness or injury, or even by a recent loss.

Types of Depression

Depression is a broad term and can be broken up into four different categories. Minor depression symptoms occur but don't last long. Often these symptoms don't even require treatment. Major depression symptoms are more severe and may prevent your parent from being able to enjoy life. This is the kind of depression you see in the commercials — people can't eat, can't sleep and don't want to get out of bed.

Dysthymia, or persistent depressive disorder, isn't as severe as major depression, but the symptoms can last for up to two years. Finally, subsyndromal depression falls in between minor and major depression. Symptoms are worse than those experienced in minor depression, but are not severe enough to be able to be designated as major depression.

Matching Symptoms

Elderly patients are often plagued with memory problems, something we normally associate with aging and then with dementia or Alzheimer's if the symptoms become more severe. However, memory problems in the elderly can also be a sign of depression that you should be on the lookout for. 

Study the history of their mental decline. Did it occur quickly or slowly? Dementia tends to occur slowly over time, sometimes so slowly that you don't even realize it until it's too late. Mental decline caused by depression happens quickly and affects concentration and movement.

What to Do

Getting an elderly parent to agree to a trip to a therapist isn't always easy. A trip to their regular doctor should be the first step. Take a moment to speak with their doctor in private and express your concerns that your parent might be suffering from depression. He or she will be able to take it from there. They will be able to assess your parent's behavior and mood and, if necessary, refer them to a therapist or psychologist.

If you parent resides in an assisted living facility, take a moment to speak to their nurse especially if you're not there all day. They will be able to observe your parent's moods and behaviors and make a recommendation.

Treatment Options

What are the options for treatment if your elderly parent is diagnosed with depression?

·         Medication: A psychiatrist might prescribe antidepressants to help your parent deal with their symptoms. Be aware that some doctors might undertreat elderly patients.
·         Therapy: For depression, medication tends to work best when paired with therapy. Talk to your parent and their doctor about the kind of therapy that will benefit them the most.
·         Electroconvulsive Therapy: This isn't used often, but it can be an option for severe cases of depression that don't respond to any other treatment. 

Depression is a serious mental health disorder. If your elderly parent is suffering from depression, talk to them and to their doctor to find out what the best options are. They will help you decide on the appropriate course of action to ensure your parent can enjoy their golden years, instead of just living through them.

Elderly individuals are at higher risk for developing depression than younger individuals, and many of them won't seek help on their own. They took care of us for our entire lives the least we can do is make sure they get the help they deserve. 


  1. Great advice! Especially about speaking to a doctor first.

  2. Depression is a dangerous affliction. Many people ignore it for years. There also the case of denial. The recent sudden death of celebrities points to the danger of depression. This post is very informative and include important tips that will save lives.


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