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Older Adults and Depression: What to Know and How to Help (Ep #008)

May 12, 2020


I recently received a letter from a listener:

"Dear Dr. Koepp, My mom has recently become depressed. She's 94 and lives alone. She's seen her internist and is on 10 milligrams of Lexapro. My family and I aren't sure what we should be doing (if anything). Where should we go from here?"


In today's episode of the Psychology of Aging Podcast, I talk about older adults and depression. I share what you need to know and how you can help.

And here's why this is so important.

Depression is the most prevalent mental health condition among older adults.

Unfortunately, depression in late life often goes undetected and untreated largely due to the false belief that with age comes depression.


Here's a peak inside the episode:

  • [03:46] Many families don't know where to start when it comes to their older loved ones and depression. I share where to begin when you notice signs of depression.
  • [06:04] Depression is not a normal part of aging. So, it's really important to know the signs and symptoms of depression in older adults, so you know what to look out for.
  • [09:12] I share a personal example of depression in my own life and what I wished I had done differently.
  • [10:55] It's important to start a conversation with your older loved one about depression. I share tips for doing this.
  • [13:12] All too often, older adults end up in the pinball machine of the healthcare system. This is where you have an important role.
  • [14:44] When depression goes untreated in older adults, there are major consequences.
  • [15:45] Learn more about the rates of depression in older adults.

By the end of this episode, you'll know the signs and symptoms for depression in older adults, you'll have a roadmap for what to do if you're worried that your older loved one is depressed, and resources for finding mental health providers for older adults near you.


Click here to listen!


If you or someone you know is in crisis or struggling with thoughts about harming themselves or others, please reach out to the...

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at +1 800-273-8255


Here's an overview of some of the important information shared about older adults and depression


The signs and symptoms of depression in older adults:

  • Persistent sadness or crying a lot                                   
  • Feeling worthless or helpless                   
  • Feeling slowed down                                           
  • Excessive worries about finances and health problems                       
  • Weight changes (due to changes in appetite- like gaining weight or losing weight)
  • Restlessness (like pacing and fidgeting),  or the opposite, being unusually still.    
  • Changes in sleep, like sleeping too much or too little.
  • Difficulty concentrating           
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in doing things they used to enjoy
  • Physical symptoms such as pain or GI problems.           
  • Withdrawal from regular social activities

In order to meet the criteria for a depressive disorder, the older adult only has to 5 of these symptoms lasting for 2 or more weeks AND these symptoms must affect how they are functioning. Like in friendships, relationships, with how they are taking care of themselves, or engaging engaging in activities.


If you're concerned that your older loved one may be depressed:

  1. Talk with them about what you’ve been noticing in a compassionate and concerned way
  2. Encourage them to see their primary care provider to rule out any medical concerns that may be causing these symptoms. If medical concerns are ruled out, or properly treated, and they are still experiencing depression symptoms, then, go to step number three.
  3. Help them get connected with a mental health provider who specializes with older adults. Here's how!


Where to find mental health professionals that specialize in older adults:

  • Psychology Today- In this resource portal, you can search for Psychologists and Psychiatrists who specialize in older adults, simply select your age category (Elders 65+)
  • Geriatric Mental Health Foundation- The doctors listed on their website are members of the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry (AAGP).
  • Major Medical Centers and Universities - If your older loved one lives near a major medical center or medical university, go online (or google them) to see if they offer mental health care for older adults. Here are some common terms to help you in your search: geriatric mental health, behavioral health for older adults, a geriatric psychiatry program, etc.


Looking for more mental health resources?

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's (SAMHSA’s) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.


What happens if depression goes untreated in older adults

Not only does treating depression in older adults alleviate suffering, we know that when depression goes untreated in older adults they:

  • Have more medical problems,
  • Stay longer in the hospital,
  • Use more medication for their medical problems,
  • Have more visits to the ER, and
  • Experience more loneliness and isolation

This is where you come in! First you can begin to shift your view that with age comes depression, and secondly, you can help your older loved one get connected to providers and resources that can help treat suffering and ease pain.

So, please don’t ignore these signs and symptoms. Instead lean in, share your concerns, and help your older loved one get connected to providers.


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Download my FREE COVID-19 WELLNESS GUIDE for Older Adults!



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I'm Dr. Regina Koepp

I'm a Board Certified Clinical Psychologist and Gerontologist specializing with older adults and families! As founder and CEO of Gero Champions, LLC and the Psychology of Aging Podcast, my mission is to help mental health and senior care providers meet the mental health and sexual health needs of older adults using up to date, evidence-based, and culturally thoughtful care.


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