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What can you do if you are an elder who is experiencing symptoms of depression?

Call your health care provider if you:

  • Feel worthless or hopeless
  • Cry frequently
  • Have difficulty coping with stresses in your life
  • Want a referral for counseling

If you are thinking of taking your own life:

  • Call 911 or
  • Go to the nearest emergency room.

Whether you are an older person or caring for one, if you suspect depression there are several things you can do:

  • Remember that depression is not a natural condition of old age and should not be tolerated as part of the aging process.
  • Ask your doctor to administer a routine depression screening test. If your doctor cannot administer a depression test, find one who can.
  • Insist on a depression assessment if you or a family member is taken to the hospital.
  • Take any talk or thoughts of suicide very seriously. Elderly people are far more likely than the rest of the population to follow through.
  • Provide support. Maintain personal contact with an elderly person, especially one in a nursing home where depression is twice as common as elsewhere.
  • Watch for depressive symptoms and seek treatment if signs are noticed.
  • Consider the use of antidepressants carefully – they can be extremely helpful in treating senior depression, but can also have potential drug interactions with other medications.
  • Treatment can greatly reduce the symptoms of depression. Trained professionals in numerous settings diagnose and treat clinical depression.

There are also many self-help activities that can help elevate an elder’s mood:

  • Mild exercise (walking or even chair exercise)
  • Music (listening, sing-alongs)
  • Pets (stroking animals has been shown to elevate mood)
  • Gardening or other hobbies
  • Reminiscing, either with other elders or with younger people
  • Visiting with family members and friends
  • Humor (such as telling jokes, emailing funny stories, watching old comedy shows)
  • Social interventions to help with isolation and loneliness such as: group outings, regular visits from concerned people, participation in a support group
  • Maintaining a healthy diet enhanced by a multivitamin
  • Volunteering to help others
  • Joining a religious or spiritual community

How can family and friends help a depressed person?

The very nature of depression can interfere with a person's ability to seek assistance. Depression saps energy and self-esteem. It makes a person feel tired and may prevent him/her from taking action toward self-care. Help from others can mean the difference between suffering and recovery. Anyone who cares can:

  • Offer emotional support–engage the depressed person in conversation and listen carefully. Do not criticize feelings expressed, but point out realities and offer hope.
  • See that the depressed person gets an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment – this may require you to make an appointment and accompany your depressed friend or family member to the doctor.
  • Be sure medications are taken as instructed.
  • Encourage the person to comply with treatment until the symptoms of depression begin to lift (several weeks), or to seek different treatment if no improvement or uncharacteristic behavior occurs.
  • Remind the person to obey doctor's orders about the use of alcoholic products while on medication.
  • Invite the depressed person for walks, outings, to the movies. Try to motivate participation in activities that once provided pleasure.
  • Reassure the depressed person that, with time and help, he or she will feel better.
  • Be alert for suicidal thoughts, words or acts, and seek professional help immediately if they occur.

How can depression in the elderly be prevented?

Although it may seem like a great many seniors suffer from depression, the majority handles the challenges of aging with at least philosophical acceptance. They enjoy being grandparents, find new activities to replace those they can no longer do, and remain relatively content with their lives. They may be saddened by their losses, but they are not depressed. Most seniors continue to feel happiness, joy, contentment, and other positive emotions.

Some ways to prevent depression include:

  • Social interaction such as support groups that deal with losses and changes
  • Staying in contact with family, friends and neighbors
  • Participating in absorbing activities
  • Volunteering to help others
  • Learning a new skill, such as emailing, cooking or gardening
  • Sharing jokes and humorous stories (there are even humor classes for seniors)
  • Maintaining a healthy diet
  • Exercise, exercise, exercise!

Content provided with permission from Helpguide.

For more information or to discuss eldercare concerns please contact Partners Employee Assistance Program at 1-866-724-4EAP.

In case of emergency, please call 911 or your local hospital emergency service.


This content was last modified on: 06/30/2008

Partners EAP is not a service for the general public.

In case of emergency, please call 911 or your local hospital emergency service.

Call Us: 1-866-724-4EAP