How Can I Tell if an Elder Is Just Sad or Is Depressed?

3 answers | Last updated: Sep 14, 2017
A fellow caregiver asked...

How can I tell if an elder is just sad or is depressed?

Expert Answers

Dr. Leslie Kernisan is the author of a popular blog and podcast at She is also a clinical instructor in the University of California, San Francisco, Division of Geriatrics.

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.

Community Answers

Cattiecathy answered...

My 75 yr ols Father has pushed Everyone out of his life including Me ! He told my daughter he does Not Like Anyone ! I'm worried he has depression because he has isolated his self . His bother has power of Atty , I need help in what I can do ? He will not talk to me !

Dimc40 answered...

my mother was never a "friendly" person. She has pushed me away and has grown closer to my room mate. she knows my room mate is not her daughter. when i can get away, i cant even leave the house. she is up all night. i have blocked my front door with the alarm that will ring. My mother is depress because she is the way she it. Iam drepress due to not working, caring for her, worry for my furture. Im only 48. lost my husband at 40. dont worry about POA. things will work im told.