It's not always easy to tell if an elder is just sad or is depressed. Depression is not uncommon among older people, especially among those with illnesses such as dementia.
But depression is not a normal part of aging, either.
On the other hand, even if an elder seems to spend a lot of time sitting on the sofa doing nothing, this does not mean he or she is depressed. The person may actually be perfectly content. This is especially true for the oldest or those who are very sick.
Doctors use two key questions to assess whether someone is depressed:
- Do you often find yourself feeling sad or hopeless?
- Are you losing interest in activities you used to find pleasurable?
Don't assume you know how your relative would answer these questions. Your perceptions of their reality (moping on the sofa) and their actual reality (sitting contentedly on the sofa reminiscing) may be more different than you think. If the person is capable of answering, ask the questions directly.
If you still have a concern about whether someone you're caring for is depressed, it's safest to bring it to the attention of a healthcare provider. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, untreated depression can delay recovery or worsen the outcome of other illnesses. Bear in mind that sometimes even a qualified healthcare provider may have difficulty determining whether or not an elder definitely has depression. In this case, it's reasonable to try treatment for at least a few months, to see whether or not the situation improves.