Aug 25, 2023

How to help an elderly parent with depression

Manny Cominsky

Depression is a prevalent and often misunderstood condition in the elderly population. While it is natural for older adults to experience feelings of sadness or grief, depression is a distinct medical condition that requires professional care. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the signs, causes, and ways to support elderly parents dealing with depression.

What is Depression in the Elderly?

While some may mistakenly think that feelings of sadness just naturally come with aging, depression is not a normal part of aging. And while everyone, particularly seniors, go through down periods in their life, it is important to be aware that depression is a serious medical condition that affects the mental health of older adults. While it may share some similarities with sadness and grief, depression is characterized by persistent feelings of hopelessness, loss of interest in activities, and a lack of motivation. Unlike temporary sadness, depression does not go away on its own and can have severe consequences if left untreated.

According to statistics, approximately 1%-5% of the general elderly population in the United States suffers from depression. It is important to note that depression can be triggered by various factors, such as genetic risk factors, role changes or loss, grief, relationship difficulties, and health conditions. Identifying these factors can help understand the underlying causes of depression in elderly parents and provide appropriate support.

Signs of Depression in Elderly Parents

Recognizing the signs of depression in elderly parents is crucial for providing the necessary support and intervention. Here are some common signs to look out for:

Loss of Interest in Activities

One of the key signs of depression in the elderly is a loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed. They may withdraw from hobbies, socializing, and even sexual activity. Declining invitations and isolating themselves from others are also common indicators of depression.


Depressed elderly parents may withdraw from friends and family, choosing to spend most of their time alone. This isolation can contribute to feelings of loneliness and exacerbate depressive symptoms.

Sleep Disturbances

Depression can disrupt sleep patterns in elderly individuals. They may have difficulty falling asleep, experience restless nights, or sleep excessively. Fatigue and lack of motivation can further contribute to irregular sleep patterns.

Changes in Appetite

Depression can impact appetite in different ways. Some elderly parents may experience a loss of appetite, leading to weight loss and nutritional deficiencies. On the other hand, some may turn to food for comfort, resulting in overeating and weight gain.

Fluctuating Moods

Mood swings are common in individuals with depression. Elderly parents may exhibit extreme sadness, irritability, or anger that fluctuates throughout the day. These mood changes may be accompanied by feelings of worthlessness or guilt.

Decreased Energy

Depression can drain an individual's energy, making everyday tasks feel overwhelming. Elderly parents may struggle with low energy levels, making it challenging to engage in daily activities such as dressing, grooming, or even leaving the house.

It is important to note that these signs may vary from person to person, and not all elderly parents will display the same symptoms. If you notice any of these signs persisting for an extended period or impacting your loved one's daily functioning, it may be indicative of depression.

Understanding the Causes of Depression in Elderly Parents

Depression in elderly parents can be caused by a combination of biological, psychological, and social factors. Here are some common causes to consider:

Genetic Risk Factors

Individuals with a family history of depression are more likely to develop depression themselves. Genetic predispositions can play a significant role in the development of depression in elderly parents.

Role Change or Loss

As individuals age, they may experience changes in their roles within the family or community. Retirement, loss of a spouse or friends, and decreased independence can contribute to feelings of sadness and a loss of purpose.

Grief and Loss

The loss of loved ones, whether through death or separation, can trigger intense feelings of grief and contribute to depression in elderly parents. Coping with the loss of friends, family members, or even pets can be challenging for older adults.

Relationship Difficulties

Elderly parents may worry about the well-being of their children or experience strained relationships with family members. These concerns can contribute to feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression.

Health Conditions

Chronic illnesses, chronic pain, and disabilities associated with aging can directly contribute to depression in elderly parents. The physical limitations and changes in health can impact their overall well-being and mental health.

It is essential to consider these underlying causes when providing support to elderly parents with depression. Understanding the factors contributing to their condition can help tailor interventions and ensure effective care.

How to Help an Elderly Parent with Depression

Supporting an elderly parent with depression requires a multifaceted approach that addresses their physical, emotional, and social well-being. Here are some tips to help you navigate this journey:

Encourage Open Communication

Foster an environment of open communication with your elderly parent. Encourage them to express their feelings and concerns without judgment. Active listening and empathy can go a long way in helping them feel understood and supported.

Seek Professional Help

If you suspect that your elderly parent is experiencing depression, encourage them to seek professional help. A primary care physician or mental health professional can provide an accurate diagnosis and recommend appropriate treatment options.

Promote Healthy Habits

Encourage your elderly parent to engage in healthy habits that promote their overall well-being. This includes regular exercise, a balanced diet, and adequate sleep. Physical activity has been shown to be effective in combating depression and improving mood.

Provide Social Support

Loneliness and isolation can worsen depressive symptoms in elderly parents. Encourage socialization by helping them connect with friends, participating in community activities, or joining support groups. Engaging in meaningful social interactions can have a positive impact on their mental health.

Create a Supportive Environment

Make modifications to the living environment to ensure it is safe, comfortable, and supportive for your elderly parent. This may include providing assistive devices, arranging transportation for medical appointments, or making the home more accessible.

Encourage Meaningful Activities

Help your elderly parent find activities that bring them joy and a sense of purpose. Engaging in hobbies, volunteering, or pursuing new interests can boost their mood and overall well-being.

Monitor Medication and Treatment

If your elderly parent is prescribed medication for depression, ensure they are taking it as prescribed and monitor any side effects. Regularly follow up with their healthcare provider to evaluate the effectiveness of the treatment plan.

Educate Yourself and Others

Increase your understanding of depression in the elderly by educating yourself and others. Attend support groups, read informative materials, and engage in conversations about mental health. Promote awareness and reduce the stigma surrounding depression.

Take Care of Yourself

Supporting an elderly parent with depression can be emotionally challenging. Remember to prioritize self-care and seek support for yourself. Take breaks, engage in activities that bring you joy, and lean on your support network when needed.

Explore Assisted Living Options

In some cases, transitioning to an assisted living facility may be beneficial for elderly parents with depression. Assisted living communities provide a supportive environment, socialization opportunities, and access to professional care. Consider exploring these options if it aligns with your loved one's needs.

Remember, every individual's experience with depression is unique, and the approach to support will vary. Be patient, compassionate, and understanding as you navigate this journey with your elderly parent.

Depression in elderly parents is a serious condition that requires attention and support. By recognizing the signs, understanding the causes, and implementing strategies to help, you can make a positive impact on your loved one's mental health. Remember to seek professional help, encourage healthy habits, provide social support, and prioritize self-care. Together, we can create an environment that promotes the well-being and happiness of elderly parents dealing with depression.

To learn more about how Sunbound can help make senior care more affordable for you or your loved one, send us an email at or request more information on Sunbound. Sunbound is the best way to pay for senior living and senior care and is on a mission to make senior living affordable for everyone.

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