- You may assume you have good reason to be down or that depression is just part of aging.
- You may be isolated—which in itself can lead to depression—with few around to notice your distress.
- You may not realize that your physical complaints are signs of depression.
- You may be reluctant to talk about your feelings or ask for help.
Feeling good as you age
- Health problems – Illness and disability; chronic or severe pain; cognitive decline; damage to body image due to surgery or disease.
- Loneliness and isolation – Living alone; a dwindling social circle due to deaths or relocation; decreased mobility due to illness or loss of driving privileges.
- Reduced sense of purpose – Feelings of purposelessness or loss of identity due to retirement or physical limitations on activities.
- Fears – Fear of death or dying; anxiety over financial problems or health issues.
- Recent bereavement – The death of friends, family members, and pets; the loss of a spouse or partner.
Is it grief or depression?
Medical conditions can cause depression in the elderly
Prescription medications and depression in the elderly
Alcohol and depression in the elderly
While alcohol may make you feel better in the short term, it can cause problems over time. Alcohol makes symptoms of depression, irritability, and anxiety worse and impairs your brain function. Alcohol also interacts in negative ways with numerous medications, including antidepressants. And while drinking may help you nod off, it can impair the quality of your sleep.
Depression in the elderly without sadness
Depression clues in older adults
Is it Depression or Dementia?
Symptoms of Depression
Symptoms of Dementia
Learn to manage your emotions
- Exercise. Physical activity has powerful mood-boosting effects. In fact, research suggests it may be just as effective as antidepressants in relieving depression. The best part is that the benefits come without side effects. You don’t have to hit the gym to reap the rewards. Look for small ways you can add more movement to your day: park farther from the store, take the stairs, do light housework, or enjoy a short walk. Even if you’re ill, frail, or disabled, there are many safe exercises you can do to build your strength and boost your mood—even from a chair or wheelchair.
- Connect with others. Getting the support you need plays a big role in lifting the fog of depression and keeping it away. On your own, it can be difficult to maintain perspective and sustain the effort required to beat depression. You may not feel like reaching out, but make an effort to connect to others and limit the time you’re alone. If you can’t get out to socialize, invite loved ones to visit you, or keep in touch over the phone or email.
- Bring your life into balance. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by stress and the pressures of daily life, it may be time to learn new emotional management and emotional intelligence skills. Watch the short video clip and consider following Helpguide’s free Bring Your Life Into Balance toolkit.
Other self-help tips to combat and prevent depression in the elderly
- Get enough sleep. When you don't get enough sleep, your depression symptoms can be worse. Aim for somewhere between 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. Read article.
- Maintain a healthy diet. Avoid eating too much sugar and junk food. Choose healthy foods that provide nourishment and energy, and take a daily multivitamin. Read article.
- Participate in activities you enjoy. Pursue whatever hobbies or pastimes bring or used to bring you joy.
- Volunteer your time. Helping others is one of the best ways to feel better about yourself and expand your social network.
- Take care of a pet. A pet can keep you company, and walking a dog, for example, can be good exercise for you and a great way to meet people.
- Learn a new skill. Pick something that you’ve always wanted to learn, or that sparks your imagination and creativity.
- Create opportunities to laugh. Laughter provides a mood boost, so swap humorous stories and jokes with your loved ones, watch a comedy, or read a funny book.
Healing after bereavement and loss
Antidepressant treatment for older adults and the elderly
Alternative medicine for depression in older adults and the elderly
- Omega-3 fatty acids may boost the effectiveness of antidepressants or work as a standalone treatment for depression.
- St. John’s wort can help with mild or moderate symptoms of depression but should not be taken with antidepressants.
- Folic acid can help relieve symptoms of depression when combined with other treatments.
- SAMe may be used in place of antideppresants to help regulate mood, but in rare cases can cause severe side effects.
Counseling and therapy for older adults and the elderly
- Supportive counseling includes religious and peer counseling. It can ease loneliness and the hopelessness of depression, and help you find new meaning and purpose.
- Therapy helps you work through stressful life changes, heal from losses, and process difficult emotions. It can also help you change negative thinking patterns and develop better coping skills.
- Support groups for depression, illness, or bereavement connect you with others who are going through the same challenges. They are a safe place to share experiences, advice, and encouragement.
Dealing with depression
Other tips for helping a depressed elderly friend or relative:
- Invite your loved one out. Depression is less likely when people’s bodies and minds remain active. Suggest activities to do together that your loved one used to enjoy: walks, an art class, a trip to the museum or the movies—anything that provides mental or physical stimulation.
- Schedule regular social activities. Group outings, visits from friends and family members, or trips to the local senior or community center can help combat isolation and loneliness. Be gently insistent if your plans are refused: depressed people often feel better when they’re around others.
- Plan and prepare healthy meals. A poor diet can make depression worse, so make sure your loved one is eating right, with plenty of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and some protein at every meal.
- Encourage the person to follow through with treatment. Depression usually recurs when treatment is stopped too soon, so help your loved one keep up with his or her treatment plan. If it isn’t helping, look into other medications and therapies.
- Make sure all medications are taken as instructed. Remind the person to obey doctor's orders about the use of alcohol while on medication. Help them remember when to take their dose.
- Watch for suicide warning signs. Seek immediate professional help if you suspect that your loved one is thinking about suicide.
More Helpguide articles:
- Helping a Depressed Person: Taking Care of Yourself While Supporting a Loved One
- Sleeping Well As You Age: Healthy Sleep Habits for Seniors
- Antidepressants: What You Need to Know About Depression Medication
- Dealing with Depression: Self-Help and Coping Tips
Resources and references for depression in older adults & the elderly
Resources for public assistance, social services, and other health and human services.