How to Help an Elderly Person With Depression

How to Help an Elderly Person With Depression

Helping An Elderly Person With Depression

Signs and symptoms of depression in elderly

Depression in the elderly can often manifest differently than in younger individuals, making it important to recognize the signs and symptoms that are more prevalent in this age group. Depression in older adults is often overlooked and dismissed as a normal part of aging, but it’s not. It’s a serious medical condition that requires attention and treatment. If you or your loved one is exhibiting these symptoms, seek professional help. Symptoms may include:

  • Persistent Sadness or Unexplained Crying Spells: A noticeable pervasive feeling of sadness or frequent crying can be a clear sign of depression.
  • Withdrawal from Social Activities: Losing interest in hobbies or social interactions that one used to enjoy can indicate depression.
  • Changes in Appetite and Weight: Significant weight loss or gain, or changes in eating habits without a clear reason, can be symptoms.
  • Sleep Disturbances: This includes difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or sleeping more than usual.
  • Fatigue or Loss of Energy: Feeling unusually tired or having a lack of energy to perform daily activities can be a sign of depression.
  • Feelings of Worthlessness or Excessive Guilt: Expressing feelings of worthlessness or undue guilt over past events can indicate depression.
  • Difficulty Concentrating or Making Decisions: Noticeable trouble focusing or making decisions on things that were previously managed with ease.
  • Physical Symptoms: Experiencing physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, like headaches, digestive disorders, or chronic pain.
  • Irritability or Restlessness: Showing signs of restlessness or being easily annoyed can be symptoms of depression
  • Thoughts of Death or Suicide: Expressing thoughts of death, suicidal ideation, or preoccupation with dying should be taken very seriously and addressed immediately.

What are the major factors/causes of depression in the elderly?

Depression in the elderly can be caused by a complex interplay of factors that go beyond the usual stressors affecting younger populations. Major factors contributing to depression in older adults include:

  • Health Decline: Chronic pain, disability, or serious illnesses like heart disease, stroke, or cancer can significantly contribute to depression by limiting mobility, creating dependence on others, or generating discomfort.
  • Loneliness and Isolation: Loss of significant others, living alone, and decreased mobility can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation, increasing the risk of depression.
  • Reduced Sense of Purpose: Retirement or physical limitations that prevent participation in previously enjoyed activities can lead to a loss of identity and purpose.
  • Fears: Fear of death, financial problems, or worsening health can provoke anxiety and depression.
  • Grief: The death of friends, family members, or pets can be harder to recover from in later life, sometimes leading to depression.
  • Medication Side Effects: Many medications prescribed for common health problems in the elderly have side effects that contribute to or cause depression.
  • Genetic Predisposition: A family history of depression increases the risk of developing the condition.
  • Brain Chemistry Imbalances: Alterations in brain chemistry linked to cognitive decline or diseases like Alzheimer’s can influence mood.
  • Poor Sleep Patterns: Insomnia or sleep disturbances, which are more common in older adults, can lead to or exacerbate depression.
  • Nutritional Deficiencies: Lack of a proper diet, often seen in the elderly, contributes to depression. Deficiencies in vitamins B12 and D, in particular, have been linked to depression.


Addressing the underlying causes can significantly improve treatment effectiveness and enhance quality of life.

Medical conditions that can lead to elderly depression

Certain medical conditions are known to lead to or exacerbate depression in the elderly including:

  • Chronic Pain: Persistent pain from arthritis, neuropathy, or chronic back problems can affect mood and quality of life, leading to depression.
  • Cardiovascular Diseases: Heart disease, stroke, and hypertension are linked to depression, possibly due to their impact on brain function and overall health.
  • Diabetes: The management of diabetes requires constant vigilance, which can be stressful and lead to feelings of helplessness and depression.
  • Cancer: The diagnosis and treatment of cancer can be profoundly distressing, often resulting in depressive symptoms.
  • Thyroid Disorders: Both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism can affect mood. Particularly, hypothyroidism is often associated with symptoms of depression.
  • Parkinson’s Disease: This neurodegenerative disorder not only affects physical movement but also can lead to depression due to changes in brain chemistry.
  • Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias: Cognitive decline and the loss of independence associated with dementia can be a significant source of depression.
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and other respiratory diseases: The physical limitations and discomfort from these conditions can contribute to depression.
  • Kidney Disease: The restrictions in lifestyle, diet, and the need for regular dialysis can lead to depression.
  • Vision and Hearing Impairment: Sensory impairments increase isolation and frustration, leading to a higher risk of depression.


When they coexist with risk factors like isolation or a history of depression, these conditions may increase the likelihood of developing depression. Helping an elderly person with depression should address and manage both physical and emotional aspects of these diseases.

Dementia vs depression in the elderly

Distinguishing between dementia and depression in the elderly can be challenging because they share some symptoms but are fundamentally different conditions. Understanding the differences is important for accurate diagnosis and treatment.

Dementia describes a group of symptoms affecting memory, thinking, and social abilities severely enough to interfere with daily functioning. It is caused by diseases that affect the brain, like Alzheimer’s disease or stroke. Symptoms of dementia include memory loss, difficulty in planning or solving problems, confusion about time or place, and changes in mood and personality. Dementia generally shows a gradual decline in cognitive abilities, although the rate of progression can vary.

Depression is a mood disorder characterized by persistent feelings of sadness, loss of interest in activities, changes in appetite or weight, sleep disturbances, and lack of energy. In the elderly, depression can also manifest as cognitive symptoms like difficulty concentrating, causing it to sometimes be mistaken for dementia. Unlike dementia, depression can be treated and potentially reversed with medications, psychotherapy, or a combination of treatments.

Key Difference between Dementia and Depression:

  • Onset: Depression can develop quickly, while dementia usually progresses slowly over time.
  • Memory Problems: Those with depression may complain about memory problems but can often provide detailed accounts of specific instances of forgetfulness. Dementia patients may be unaware of their memory loss or try to conceal it.
  • Mood and Outlook: Depression in the elderly is marked by pervasive sadness or hopelessness, while mood changes in dementia are often characterized by fluctuations, with periods of apparent normalcy.
  • Response to Treatment: Depression can improve with treatment, but dementia’s cognitive decline is generally irreversible, though some symptoms can be managed.
  • Overlap: Depression can occur in patients with dementia, complicating diagnosis and treatment. Depression in the elderly can lead to “pseudodementia,” a condition where depressive symptoms mimic those of dementia, including cognitive impairment. When the depression is treated, the cognitive symptoms may improve or resolve.


Given their similarities but critical differences, thorough medical evaluation, including physical exams, mental health assessments, and sometimes brain imaging, is essential to accurately differentiate between dementia and depression in the elderly.

How do you talk to an elderly person who is depressed?

To help an elderly person or loved one with depression. approach conversations with empathy and compassion.

Enter these discussions with an open heart and a willingness to truly listen, allowing them to express their feelings without fear of judgment. Use open-ended questions to encourage sharing, and actively listen to their responses, showing you value their thoughts and feelings. Validate their experiences, acknowledging their pain and struggle. Offering your support can be comforting; let them know that you’re there for them. Remind them depression is a common issue that can be managed with the proper care. Recovery from depression doesn’t happen overnight.

Regular check-ins can reinforce your support and concern, making a difference in their healing process. Ensure you’re also seeking the support you need, especially if you are a caregiver. Your understanding and presence can be a beacon of hope and comfort for your loved one navigating the challenges of depression.

Treatment for depression in the elderly

Treating depression in the elderly effectively involves a combination of medication, psychotherapy, lifestyle adjustments, and social support, for each person’s needs. Antidepressants may help but require careful management to avoid side effects. Psychotherapy, like cognitive-behavioral therapy, can alter negative thought patterns, while increasing physical activity, improving diet, and fostering social connections may improve mood. Addressing any coexisting medical issues is also important. A collaborative approach, involving healthcare providers, the patient, and the family, is key to managing depression and improving quality of life.

Related Articles

Latest Blog Posts
Elderly Feeling Nauseous

Nausea is a common yet concerning symptom among elderly individuals, often signaling underlying health issues that require attention. As people age, they experience various physiological changes and are more likely to develop chronic health conditions, which can contribute to feeling nauseated.

Elderly Person Feeling Tired All the Time

Persistent fatigue in older adults is not a normal part of aging; it often indicates a deeper problem. Recognizing the signs of fatigue in the elderly and understanding the various causes help to manage this condition and improve the quality of life for older adults.

Why Do Elderly People Feel Cold All the Time?

As people age, their bodies undergo various changes that can make them feel colder, even in moderately cool environments.

Answers for Elderly Person Feeling Hot All the Time

When an elderly person gets overheated they may feel excessively hot due to medications, thyroid issues, dehydration, decreased blood circulation, or hormonal changes.

Our Services

Memory Care

Our experienced staff provides a structured environment where residents with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias can thrive with set routines.

Club Stellar

Residents who are early on in the progression of their dementia or Alzheimer’s disease may be eligible for our Club Stellar program and special rate.


Our staff prepares nutritious meals three times a day, featuring in-season fruits and vegetables, homemade soups, and diabetic options.


The Stellar Care activities staff curates tailored activities, field trips, and programs for all residents at various levels in the progression of their dementia.

A Memory Care Community

4518 54th Street  San Diego, CA 92115
Phone: (619) 287-2920

LICENSE #374603625

Copyright © Stellar Care | Website Development by blue media marketing, Inc.