OH-Blog Logo
Elder parent laughing with middle aged adult on bench in park

Depression in Older Adults: What You Can Do to Help Your Parent

How to help aging parents identify and treat this common condition

As you get older, parent-child roles start to shift, and the new responsibilities can be daunting. It seems like overnight you went from calling your parents for career advice to you becoming their caregiver.

One of the most common but overlooked health issues for seniors is depression. This mental health condition affects more than 1 in 5 older Americans, and identifying it early is key to helping your parents receive the treatment they need. Here’s what you need to know to help your mom or dad cope with depression.

Causes of Depression

Seniors are often dealing with not just role transitions but also diagnoses of chronic health conditions. Not only can the stress of a serious health condition bring on depression, but health conditions themselves — cardiovascular diseases, strokes, neurological diseases, cancer and certain inflammatory diseases — can actually create biological changes that contribute to depression as well, says James Cummins, MD, staff psychiatrist with OhioHealth Behavioral Health.

Depression Signs and Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of depression in seniors are similar to someone of any age, Cummins says.

They include:

  • More “down” days than positive days
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Unexplained weight gain
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Withdrawing from social activities

“Another common symptom of depression in seniors is when they amplify complaints about aches and pains, and they fixate on these discomforts more than they normally would,” Cummins says.

What You Can Do About It

When most people think about depression treatment, medication comes to mind. Although it is an incredibly effective and important tool in curbing depression symptoms, Cummins urges you to also consider these methods:

  1. Talk about it. Ask your parents about their concerns, joys and struggles because their simply vocalizing these feelings can help them combat depression.
  2. Exercise. Doctors agree that as a first-line defense against depression, exercise works. Regular (three to five times per week) aerobic exercise sends endorphins — also known as “feel good” chemicals — to the brain.
  3. Socialize. Encourage your parent to join a walking or gardening club. Isolation tends to bring on depression, so the more they are around others, the better.

Most importantly, if your parent starts to express thoughts about suicide, seek care for him or her immediately.