depression in our aging loved ones

We like to think of our later years as a time when we can relax and spend time doing things we enjoy with people we enjoy being with. For many people their senior years exemplify this scenario. However, there are many seniors who have found that their life in their later years is not what they hoped it would be. The National Association for Mental Illness reports “depression affects more than 6.6 million of the 35 million Americans aged 65 or older.” As caregivers we must recognize and understand how depression can impact our aging loved ones.


Seniors encounter challenges that may trigger depression. They include increased health problems. Decreased mobility and dependence can occur. Diminished memory, eyesight, and hearing can arise. Forced retirement can negatively affect mood if it is something you do not want. It can also create more financial hardship. Also, as we age we may have to face the death of loved ones including friends, family, and especially challenging is the loss or illness of life partners.


Depression can also be associated with medical problems. Illnesses like cancer, heart disease, dementia, bone fractures, and stroke can be linked with depression. When our bodies fail us it reminds us of our mortality. These medical problems can result in challenging treatment regimes and loss of regular body functions which can end with depression. The Center for Disease Control reports “80% of older adults have at least one chronic health condition, and 50% have two or more.”


The symptoms of depression can vary in terms of duration, type, and intensity. They must last at least 2 weeks to be diagnosed as depression. Common symptoms include:

  • sadness
  • social isolation
  • tearfulness
  • sleeping too much
  • loss of appetite
  • lack of interest in things you used to enjoy
  • thoughts regarding self-harm
  • feeling helpless and hopeless
  • increased and ongoing complaints about pain and physical symptoms


Those of us that are caregivers need to take on a proactive role in terms of helping depressed senior loved ones get the help they need. There are several treatment options available to treat depression. Here are things you can do as a caregiver to support a loved one with depression:


  • Encourage them to see their physician. An examination can offer an accurate diagnosis. Doctors can also prescribe anti-depressants that will help alleviate the depression. Make sure they are taking these medications in their proper dosage so they can offer maximum effectiveness.


  • Do what you can to promote socialization. Perhaps invite people to come see them if mobility is an issue. Encourage family, friends, neighbors, clergy to visit with them. Spend time with them yourself.


  • Make sure they eating properly. Nutrition can directly impact our physical and mental health.


  • Engage a mental health professional with expertise in geriatrics to offer counseling to your senior loved one. This is an important treatment option to reduce depression.


  • Encourage them to find a hobby or promote activities they enjoy or interests you know they have a history of participating in.


Remember that depression does not have to be a normal part of aging. Many seniors live satisfying and fulfilling lives in their later years. The reality is seniors are at higher risk of experiencing depression based on the factors discussed above. They may not be able to see it is happening. You need to be gentle, supportive, and empathetic as you share your concerns. Acknowledge their thoughts and feelings about your input on their condition. As a caregiver you will need to be vigilant about ongoing monitoring of your loved one even after they are diagnosed and begin treatment. That is one of the most important ways you can help as a caregiver.



Do you feel like you need to hit the REFRESH button on your life? Download our free guide and begin to create your best life yet!