Depression in Older Adults: How to Help Your Loved One

Depression in older adults is sadly common, although it is not a normal part of ageing. Between 10 and 15 percent of older people experience depression. The link between ageing and depression may come from older people being lonely or socially isolated, which can promote the onset of mental health conditions.

Depression is sometimes hard to diagnose in older people because its symptoms can be confused with the natural ageing process: less energy, sleep problems, memory and concentration difficulties… Especially if depression coexists with dementia, diagnosis can be difficult.

Common causes that can exacerbate the symptoms of depression in older adults:

  • Some life events such as bereavement, retirement, social isolation and loss of social relationships
  • Neurodegenerative diseases, chronic pain, or cancer
  • Genetic risk. People with genetic risk factors for depression also have a higher risk of experiencing the disorder than the general population
  • Prolonged stress and grief
  • Lack of exercise or physical activity, or poor physical health
  • Experiencing childhood trauma or abuse or other mental health conditions that are triggered by trauma, such as PTSD or anxiety, can often trigger a depression episode
  • Some medications can trigger the onset of depression

What is major depressive disorder?

Major depressive disorder (MDD), also called clinical depression, is a medical condition that causes a persistent and intense feeling of sadness and loss of interest that affects daily life. 

Depression can have different causes, but it is now believed that the onset of depression is influenced by a combination of genetics, environmental stress, brain chemistry and personality. Chemical imbalances in the brain involving serotonin and noradrenaline may play a role in this disorder, and some people may have a higher genetic risk. 

Australia is one of the countries with the highest rate of depression, with more than 1.3 million diagnosed cases of depression. Depression is a treatable illness and antidepressant medications and psychotherapy are the two most widespread treatments that have been shown to treat people with depression effectively. 

Signs and Symptoms of Depression in Older Adults

The signs and symptoms of depression vary from person to person, but there are some common ones among older adults. To be considered MDD, these symptoms must be prolonged over time, and they often have in common a loss of interest and pleasure and feeling low. Common symptoms include:

  • Frequent sadness or irritability
  • Loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyable
  • Weight gain or loss, or changes in appetite
  • Trouble sleeping, or sleeping more than usual
  • Feeling very tired and having a lack of energy
  • Problems concentrating, thinking, or making decisions
  • Loss of libido
  • Feelings of guilt, loss of hope or blame
  • Self-harming thoughts

In addition to these symptoms, there are social signs that may indicate that the person has depression, such as avoiding contact with friends or family and taking part in fewer social activities, giving up hobbies and interests, and having difficulties in everyday social relationships. 

What to do if you suspect you or your loved one is showing signs of depression

If you think that someone may be suffering from depression because they are showing some of its signs and symptoms, the first step is to have a conversation with that person. Sometimes older people are not used to talking about their feelings and emotions, or they may be worried about what might happen if they share their experiences, as they do not want to be seen as a burden for their loved ones. Identifying the factors that have caused the person to become depressed can be a good first step in taking action. 

We have to bear in mind that the stigma attached to mental illness and psychiatric treatment is quite powerful among older people. Therefore, it is very important to show your support, validate their emotions, and ask how you can help them in this conversation. Giving messages of encouragement and hope can also help, as well as proposing activities that you know can lift the person’s mood. 

The next step is to get professional help for that person. The person suffering from depression has to know that there are ways and resources out there to assist them. Professionals can play a very important role in recovery. Some of the treatments for depression are medication, psychotherapy or group therapy, supplements or exercise. 

If you suspect or know that a loved one may be suffering from depression and would like to get help, The CareSide is always here for you. 

Creating a Nursing Care Plan for Depression in Elderly Parents

Supporting an older adult with a mental condition such as depression is crucial to help them in the recovery process.  If you are helping your elderly parent with depression, creating a nursing care plan will be a great help. Rather than a complete guide, this is a basic outline of some of the most crucial actions and tasks that you can undertake to provide the best care: 

  • Understand their mental health needs
  • Define what help they need: medical, physical, psychological and/or social.
  • Discuss the treatment options available and which would be the most appropriate.
  • Define what results you want to achieve in the short, medium and long term.

If you want to provide the best help for your loved one, a nursing care plan offered by professionals may be the best solution for you. At The CareSide, we offer nursing care plans for the elderly that suit each individual’s needs. Our nurses are fully qualified to provide one-on-one clinical care, and having their help at home translates into increased comfort, privacy and security. We provide all types of support and professionals depending on your needs, like carers, registered nurses, and overnight care. 

Caregiving Tips for Loved Ones with Major Depressive Disorder

Supporting an older adult with depression 

After a medical evaluation and diagnosis that determines that the person is suffering from clinical depression, they will still need your help and support in ongoing care. Here are some tips for caring for and supporting people with depression in later life: 

  • Provide support in a kind, non-judgmental and compassionate way, and let the person know that you are there to provide support. Being a good listener and offering advice coherent with the treatment plan is a great help to the person with depression.
  • If the treatment plan has already been determined, support the treatment. When it begins and some results are seen, praise any significant improvements.
  • Manage the medication. Encourage your loved one to take the medication and be in control of it. Be aware of the medication’s effects as sometimes the ideal medical treatment is not found until several tests.
  • Help with domestic chores. Depression makes some everyday tasks difficult to do because the person may not have the motivation, desire or energy to do them.
  • Be patient and realistic. Treating depression takes time, and improvement may be slow, or there may be setbacks. Setting realistic goals is a great help for both the caregiver and the person with depression.
  • Participate in the recommended activities. You can participate in relaxation techniques, writing, or any other kind of sport or activity. This will encourage your loved one and also help you to spend quality time together and bring you together.
  • Consider going to support groups or family therapy. 

Care for the caregiver

People with depression need support that sometimes extends over a long period of time, which can be exhausting for the caregiver. 

Research has shown that people who care for a loved one suffer physical and mental effects, as the physical and mental strain is huge, especially if they live with that person. Therefore, it is very necessary to think about yourself, take breaks, and continue to do things that you enjoy and that make you feel better. Your goals and priorities are also important.

For this reason, asking for professional help is crucial to avoid the effects that prolonged caregiving can have on you. These effects would worsen your caregiving activity and would not be beneficial for the person with depression. 

From The CareSide we want to let you know that asking for professional help is also helping yourself. As part of your nursing care plan, you should also include time to take care of your own physical and mental health. Caring for a family or a loved one is a privilege, but it can also be overwhelming.

At The CareSide we understand how important it is for carers to take time to look after themselves and take some breaks, so for that we offer respite care services, a highly useful service that allows you take a break from caring for your elderly loved one. Please visit our respite care page if you would like to find out more about this type of temporary help. 

More Information


National Institute on Ageing – Depression and older adults:


Sane Australia – Depression Factsheet and guide 


ReachOut Australia – Types of depression:


Health Direct – Depression:


Swinburne – Major Depressive Disorder: ​​ 


Self-help resources for depression:

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