Signs of Depression in Older Adults, And What to Do if You Suspect It

Depression is not a normal part of aging. But, it is common for seniors to experience it. Signs of depression in older adults affect nearly 6 million Americans age 65 and older. Of these, only about 10% receive treatment.

Untreated, depression can have serious consequences on a person’s wellbeing. Depression in older adults is often hard to spot and can go undiagnosed. It is important to know the signs and symptoms of depression in older adults and what to do when you suspect depression.

Signs of Depression in Older Adults

Recognizing depression starts with understanding the signs and symptoms. Here are some depression red flags to look out for:

  • Weight loss or decreased appetite
  • Lack of motivation or energy
  • Memory problems
  • Difficulty sleeping or oversleeping
  • Sadness or despair
  • Loss of self-worth or feeling like a burden
  • Fixation on death or suicide
  • Neglecting personal care
  • Loss of interest in socialization and hobbies

Did you know that seniors may have depression and not describe themselves as feeling “sad”? Depression symptoms do not always reveal themselves as sadness.

Instead, signs of depression could be low motivation, a lack of energy, or physical issues. That is why it can be difficult to diagnose depression in older adults. Sometimes, depression is mistaken as another medical condition, side effects of medications, or alcohol and drug use disorders.

Grief and Depression

Distinguishing between grief and signs of depression in older adults is not easy, but there is a difference. We experience more loss as we age, such as the loss of a loved one, a sense of independence, our health, or career.

Grieving the loss of something/someone is normal and healthy. That said, it is good to talk to someone about grief as part of the healing process.

Here are some ways you can tell the difference between grief and depression.

  1. Grief involves a wide variety of emotions and a mix of good and bad days. You still have moments of happiness on grieving days.
  2. Depression, however, can feel like a constant emptiness or despair.
  3. There is no timeline for grieving. But if the grieving does not let up over time and a person does not show signs of joy, it might be depression.

Causes of Signs of Depression in Older Adults

Older adults experience some unique causes of depression. Life changes can increase the risk of depression. Some common factors that can cause depression in older adults include:

Loneliness and Isolation

Living alone, loss of loved ones, and decreased mobility can make it hard to leave the house. Loneliness from isolation can lead to depression symptoms.


Fears can cause a person to become depressed. A senior might experience fears of death, financial problems, health problems, or loss.

Health Issues

Physical health can affect a person’s mental health. Illnesses, disabilities, chronic pain, cognitive decline, and frequent surgeries could trigger depression in older adults.


Losing a loved one, friend, or pet is a common cause of depression in seniors.

Lacking a Sense of Purpose

Retirement can cause a loss of identity, confidence, and financial security. Physical decline that limits the number of activities a person can do can also cause depression.

What to Do if You Suspect Someone is Depressed

Do you suspect an older adult in your life has depression? The good news is that depression is treatable. Here are a few things you can do to promote positive mental health. Remember, seeking professional help for clinical depression can be extremely beneficial.

Promote a sense of purpose by encouraging them to take up a hobby, participate in social activities, or volunteer. Many activities for older adults can be done at home, so mobility and transportation are not an issue. For example, VANTAGE’s AmeriCorps Seniors’ Telecare program connects seniors to volunteers who call each other to check in and have friendly conversations.

Keep them active with exercises that encourage balance and strength. Your local gym can answer questions about finding an exercise routine that is safe and enjoyable.

Make sure they get enough nutritious foods that promote health. If a person has a hard time preparing meals, a home-delivered meal service can help ensure they get healthy meals while lightening your load as a family caregiver.

Keep an eye on medications to be sure that they take medications properly and follow the doctor’s orders.

Enroll in small supports to help your loved one at home. Simple services that help with cleaning, food preparation, and running errands provide them with the opportunity to maintain independence and interact with others.

Seek professional help from a mental health professional if you notice shifts in appetite or behavioral changes. Counseling can provide your loved one with a care plan and an experienced professional to talk to.

*The information in this article is intended solely to provide general information on matters of interest for the personal use of the reader, who accepts full responsibility for its use. This article should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional legal, medical, or other competent advisors.

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