Recognizing Depression in an Older Adult

Family Caregiving September 23, 2015 Print Friendly and PDF

Did you know depression in an older adult does not always look the same as in a younger person?

In some older adults, depression may:

  • be less about moodiness
  • be more about a reduced interest in activities previously enjoyed
  • involve complaints about memory difficulties
  • include talk about physical problems, such as aches and pains for which no physical cause can be found
  • include posture changes and a slowed gait
  • involve irritability, especially in older men

Perhaps most importantly, an older adult does not as easily admit to the possibility of depression. If you ask them about “being depressed” it is likely to be denied.

The federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) suggests one simple way to identify the possibility of depression in an older adult: Ask two questions, preferably without using the word “depressed.”

  • Question 1. “Over the last two weeks, have you felt let down or hopeless?”
  • Question 2. “Over the past two weeks have you felt little interest or pleasure in doing things?”

“Yes” to both questions should lead you to seek a formal diagnosis from a well-informed health-care provider. Diagnosis by a knowledgeable clinician is an important step in the treatment process. Depression is highly treatable. Early diagnosis means greater likelihood of good treatment outcome.

Seek treatment — the earlier the better.

For additional information, visit the Mastery of Aging Well learning lesson Depression in Later Life.



Click One of the Links Below to Access More Lessons in the Mastery of Aging Well Series:


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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.