Help a Depressed Older Parent

Help a depressed older parent by understanding the symptoms and possible interventions.

Everyone deals with personal, family, or work problems and issues that can affect our outlook on life. We often work through these transitory issues, which reduces or eliminates the negative feelings. However, adult children need to help a depressed older parent when the depression becomes chronic or long-term.

Older people have plenty of concerns that can produce negative moods or feelings. A few of these include loneliness, health issues, lack of mobility, and financial issues. However, studies have found that older people are generally less depressed than their younger counterparts. Therefore, do not assume that elderly parents should automatically feel depressed. It just is not the case.

Symptoms of Depression in Older People

  • An elderly parent may show a reduced interest in activities he/she previously enjoyed or the ability to focus on what is going on around him. We sometimes attribute this to dementia, but it might, instead, be depression.
  • Chronic complaining is also a sign of depression. Everyone complains. It seems to be a part of being human. However, when the complaining is incessant and continues over a longer period, it is not normal.
  • Use/overuse of alcohol or medications may be an attempt to mitigate the negative feelings caused by depression.
  • Difficulty sleeping or even oversleeping and general fatigue during the day are signs of potential depression. If an adult child notices that their elderly parent’s sleep patterns have changed, this is a cause for concern.

Ways to Help a Depressed Older Parent

  • The first step in helping an elderly parent is to take him/her to a physician for a thorough examination. Many chronic diseases, such as arthritis, early stage Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, Parkinson’s disease, and stroke are contributors to depression. A physician can identify and treat a chronic disease which can reduce or eliminate the signs of depression.
  • Medications or the combination of prescriptions and/or over-the-counter products can bring on signs of depression. Talk to a pharmacist or physician about the medications taken by your older parent to determine if a reaction is occurring.
  • Lack of activity and exercise is an important risk factor for depression. Encourage your elderly parent to take part in activities or exercise regularly. If he/she is reluctant, identify the reasons and try to mitigate them. Check out this new e-book, Keep Elderly People Active that addresses why older people are reluctant to exercise, how to convince them to take part in activities, and what activities/exercises are suitable.
  • Spend time with your elderly parent or find others to stop by and socialize to reduce loneliness and social isolation. Reminiscing about previous positive events or experiences can help reduce negative moods or depression in older people.


The best way to help a depressed older parent is to monitor his/her situation, mood, and behavior regularly through visits or phone calls. Hiring a caregiver to provide services for as little as four hours, two or three days can help. Also, remain alert to suicidal thoughts or actions from your elderly parent. Take action immediately if required by contacting his/her physician and/or using the services of a geriatric social worker, therapist, or physiatrist.

Find out more about the symptoms of and treatments for depression by checking out this interesting article. Click here. Also, developing a care plan for your elderly parent can help in addressing his signs of depression. Look at this earlier post by clicking here.

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