Understanding Depression and Anxiety in the Elderly

Updated on August 31, 2017

Anxiety in Old Age

Depression can occur in anyone of any age, irrespective of your background or how stressful your life history is.

For the elderly, depression can be a common problem. They may be lonely, may have lost their loved ones, financial savings could be running low, absence of caring and supportive communal network, have medical problems, or they may expect more than what their loved ones can provide.

A depressed elderly person may not want to see anyone or even take his or her prescribed medication. They may also refuse to eat and do anything except just stay in bed. These will just make the depression worse.

Signs of Depression in Older Adults

Most of the time, it is difficult for you to know if the elderly is suffering from depression or otherwise. They may be on medication or suffering from existing conditions such as diabetes, cancer or strokes, which you may interpret as the cause of their anxiety and not symptoms of depression.

They will not tell you of their problem, as they do not want to burden you. Therefore, by the time you come to know of this, it may be too late.

Look out for the following signs that may suggest depression:

  • Difficulty doing routine things at home and may withdraw from pursuing their interest in what used to be their favorite pastime, such as gardening.
  • Difficulty with their body movement or speech which may be slow and sluggish.
  • They may indicate or give signs of being disheartened, useless or insignificant. They think that they will be a burden.
  • They may harbor thoughts of suicide.
  • They may have problem sleeping or falling asleep.
  • Loss of appetite, eat very little and failed to take care of personal hygiene.
  • They may start to drink more.
  • They may be impatient, irritable and have memory problems.

Robin William's Suicide

Robin William, the American actor best known for his roles in the television series "Mork and Mindy" was found dead on Aug. 11, 2014.

His death by suicide has raised public awareness and discussions on depression.

Aging and Stress

According to Dr. John Greden, the executive director of the University of Michigan Comprehensive Depression Center and founding chairman of the National Network of Depression Centers, 1 in 6 Americans has bipolar illnesses and lifetime depressions. And, about 75 to 80 percent of deaths by suicide can be linked with these mood disorders esp. among the elderly.

Pet such as dog or cat can be a good therapy for elderly people who are down with depression
Pet such as dog or cat can be a good therapy for elderly people who are down with depression | Source

Helping the Elderly with Depression

There are several options you can try to help elderly with depression. Some people may go for prescribed medication, which should be the last resort, unless it is already a severe case. Check with your doctor on this matter.

Noninvasive Ways to Treat Anxiety in the Elderly

The following suggestions look at alternative non-medicinal approach. As each person is different, try various approaches if one does not work. Continue to do so until you find the right one.

1. Listen

Talk to them and listen. Listening can encourage them to pour out their problems and give them comfort. Listen attentively and do not pass any judgment or offer advice. Just listen because that is what they want at that moment.

2. Pet Therapy

Give them something to care for, like a pet dog. This will also give them something to look forward to, which is good as a psychological and physical relief. Pets will also give the elderly the needed companionship.

3. Recognize Their Problem

Depression is a serious matter and accepts it as a form of illness or disability. Do not expect your elders to just buck-up and be themselves again the next moment. Help to tackle their problem by breaking it into smaller tasks and steps so that they easily handle them.

4. Diet

Reduce salt in their diet, as elderly people are sensitive to sodium intake. This will help lower their stress or hypertension level, which is one of the key issues in depression. Avoid caffeine and alcohol as these will worsen and dampen their mood. Likewise, foods high in fat and sugar can also aggravate their mood.

5. Kids

Sometimes having children around will help lift their mood, especially if it is their grandchildren. In some cases this may not work. It might even be stressful and increase their hypertension level. So assess the situation and see which work best.

Visit the elderly often to fight their loneliness and isolation
Visit the elderly often to fight their loneliness and isolation | Source

6. Mild exercise

Keeping the elderly occupied both in mind and body will help lift them out of their depression. Go for a walk, go shopping for groceries together, go to the movies, have lunch or tea at their favorite restaurant or anything that they used to enjoy. You may get the initial rejection to all these ideas but try to be gently firm.

7. Regular Visit

Nothing is more exciting that to anticipate the next visit. Arrange and schedule regular visits among family members and friends, if you cannot make it on a regular basis. This visit is therapeutic as it helps fight loneliness and isolation, especially to an elder that is already suffering from depression.

8. Herbal Remedies

Although I did mention earlier that medication should be the last resort, please check with your doctor if taking alternative herbal remedies will have any side effects on any existing medication that your loved one are now taking. Do take note of the comment below,;as some herbal remedies can interfere with prescribe medication.

  • Omega-3 fatty acids: Studies have shown that taking both omega-3's and antidepressants can be more helpful than then taking antidepressants on its own. Take it before meals.
  • St. John's Wort: Used traditionally as treatment for anxiety, sadness and nervousness, St. John’s Wort can be effective antidepressants if they have mild or moderate depression. Do not take together with prescribed or over-the-counter anti-depressants, as it may interfere with its effectiveness.
  • Magnesium: As stress will depletes magnesium, take food rich in magnesium such as green vegetables or whole grains. Alternatively take magnesium supplements.
  • Folic acid: Taking folic acid and vitamin B12 will also help improve the effectiveness of their anti-depressant medication. Cabbage, whole grain oats and brewer’s yeast are rich in folic acid.

9. Brown Rice

Brown rice is rich in vitamins B1, B3 and folic acid. It will also release glucose gradually into the bloodstream, which will prevent any mood swings. Include brown rice in their diet.

10. Oxygen Therapy

Oxygen therapy involved breathing in a concentrated form of oxygen that claimed to help alleviate depression. It will improve blood circulation sending energizing oxygen to the muscles and brain and this will give new strength to their body and mind. Seek medical advice before you decide on this option.

11. Sunshine Therapy

Studies have shown that natural sunlight will help people with depression. Take them out for a walk or have drinks outside to benefit from the sunshine. This is a simple and fun way to enjoy with your loved one.

12. Laughter Therapy

As the saying goes, laughter is the best medicine. Therefore, as a good therapy for depression in the elderly, let them listen to comedy show or get them to watch good comedies. The old Laurel and Hardy or Charlie Chaplin movies could be possible choices.

13. Reading Story Book

Nothing will excite the elderly more than to hear a child reads to them or even hearing a child’s voice. Arrange for your children to take turn to read storybooks or newspaper articles to their grandparents. Alternatively, you can try a product that let you record the reading and have it sent to them. It is like a greeting card with sound. The moment they open the card, they will hear the story read by their loved one.

14. Sessions With a Psychoanalyst

There may be issues that an elderly person might not feel comfortable to talk of, to family members or friends. This is when having session with a psychoanalyst will help.

15. Acupuncture

Acupuncture is about ying and yang and striking the right balance. Depression is quite often due to this imbalance and having acupuncture will put the body back into balance. Choose a well-trained and qualified practitioner when trying this option for an elderly with depression.

16. Massage Therapy

A feel good factor is missing in anyone that is depressed. Massage, if properly administered, will enhance this feeling of wellbeing. Massage will also release neurotransmitters serotonin and endorphins that are responsible for the feel good and feeling of calmness for the body. It will also lower the stress hormone.

17. Religion

To some, being close to their spiritual and religious beliefs do provide a positive link to a stable and good mental health. If this is the case, provide whatever support you can, to give access to these services.

18. Medication

Lastly, if they are already on medication and undergoing therapy or treatment, ensure these are taken and to follow through with the treatment.

Caring Parent

It is our responsibility to care for our elderly parents or grandparents irrespective of the situation. Depression in the elderly, if we do not properly monitor and check in the initial stage, can lead to more problems later.

It is also our responsibility to look out for our children, especially our teenage children. Depression among teenagers is on the increase, and in some cases, it has led to suicide.

Therefore, our role as a caring parent to our children as well as to our own parents or grandparents, are huge responsibilities and some may not be able to cope with these. There are support groups, caregivers and free counseling centers that can come in and provide us with assistance. Check the local directories for their address or check on-line for detail of their services.

© 2012 Mazlan


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    • greatstuff profile image

      Mazlan 4 years ago from Malaysia

      @DeborahNeyens. Thanks for dropping by and sharing your thoughts. I am glad you find this article on depression in the elderly useful. Have a great weekend.

    • DeborahNeyens profile image

      Deborah Neyens 4 years ago from Iowa

      It's good to bring awareness to this issue. As the population ages, this problem likely will be on the rise. Very useful information.

    • mizjo profile image

      mizjo 5 years ago from New York City, NY

      @watergeek, I am so sorry about your mother. Yes, I know that dementia in a parent makes it difficult to care for her. If it is only slight, where she only forgets where she lives and how to care for herself, it is still possible to keep her home with a part/full time caretaker.

      I agree that in severe dementia, where the person even forgets how to use her legs, then there is no option but to admit her into a care facility. She is beyond recognising her own family at that stage, does not miss them and depression is not an issue. With being bedridden, incontinence, and, in many publicised cases, elder abuse and neglect in nursing homes, death is not far off.

      @TLC I feel your pain.

    • watergeek profile image

      watergeek 5 years ago from Pasadena CA

      I had to put my mother in a nursing home, because there was just me, I was working, and she had dementia. She used to just take off without saying anything and end up in the next town over, some stranger calling me from the phone number on her bracelet, her claiming that he was a good friend from church. A security guard found her wandering the local college a mile away one day (I was home when she took off - one minute there, the next gone) and called the hospital emergency ward, who put her in the mental ward, who referred her to a locked Alzheimers facility. I fought to get her into a better place and succeeded, but after a few months she lost the use of her legs and they couldn't keep her anymore.

    • mizjo profile image

      mizjo 5 years ago from New York City, NY

      Greatstuff, it is cheaper to have a caretaker in the home (if the grandparent needs some help) than to keep the grandparent in a nursing or Old Folks' Home. As TLC says, 'they even take your Social Security', so the resident is penniless. That money could pay the caretaker, with some change.

      And as 'ipcmc' from the Philippines says, ' the older (her grandmother) got the more she wanted to be with family and friends'. It is so cruel to dispose of an old parent just because she is old. She has to go to a strange place among strangers, at her age, when her only security and happiness is with her own family? The isolation and loneliness is so extreme she only wants to die. I know, I have worked in nursing homes. These people soon become incontinent, they don't want to get out of bed.

      There are of course, Assisted Living Homes, where the atmosphere is very different. But they cost a LOT of money (EVERYTHING you have, in many cases) and that money could very well be used at home with the family and maybe a part time carer.

      The truth of the matter is that, in 'first world countries', there is no room in the heart for the elderly. Until we go back to the mindset of our forefathers, where they lived with less material goods and more spiritual, where three generations lived and loved together through thick or thin, sharing wealth or poverty, then the curse of loneliness and depression and guilt will continue to thrive.

      Even if both parents in the family work, the grandparent can still stay in the house till they come home, even if they employ a part-time caretaker. We have to give back to the parents who gave us everything.

    • greatstuff profile image

      Mazlan 5 years ago from Malaysia

      @mizjo: Now with both husband and wife working and things are getting expensive, the old ways of living with two or three generations under one roof is becoming tougher for those living in the big Asian cities. It is unfortunate but some had resorted to having their parents in old folks home. Even if their parents are away in the kampong (rural area) some, don’t even have time to call. That is why you will see TV advertisement asking sons and daughters to call their parents esp. during festive seasons. Sad but it is true.

      @TCL: It is tough as we get older and I am in that zone now. Will be 60 next year and I keep myself busy with work, fitness, religion and charity work. I try not to expect anything from others so that I will not be disappointed later. Can you keep a pet, like hamster, which is easier than cat or dog (as in nursing home this will be difficult)? It helps. Don’t give up.

    • profile image

      TCL 5 years ago

      Dear Mizio:

      In my family, we lived together, too. But now SSI, Section 8, and foodstamps won't pay if we live with or rent from relatives or even "closely interested" people. So I had to live alone. It really hurt. One thing I miss are the hugs.

      Some laws should be outlawed. They do too much psychological damage.

      Nursing home--It's like life imprisonment without parole--for the crime of getting old. They even take your Social Security money. I worked in a nursing home once. The joke among the residents was that they hoped they died before their clothes wore out--because they had no money to buy more. Just shoot me. It's a kinder death.

    • mizjo profile image

      mizjo 5 years ago from New York City, NY

      Where I grew up, our grandparents lived with us, and still, many years later, there are three generations in most families.

      There was no name for depression because we did not know of such a condition. If someone was grouchy or quiet, there was everyone else in the family to find out why. The mere interaction with members of the family was enough to dispel the clouds. There is no lack of stimulation in a family environment. Why should the elderly ever have to live by himself unless he has nobody?

      I remember Crocodile Dundee's answer for the question of depression: 'A tells B, and B tells C, and soon everybody knows about it. A problem shared is a problem halved'. Or as close a quote as I can remember.

      As for the argument that nobody has the time to take care of the old parent, is it not true that usually the old parent is mobile and independent until put into the nursing home, and then stops caring for or about himself?

      When I first came to a western country (Australia), I could not believe that grandparents lived in Old Folks' Homes. The first one I heard of was called 'Sunset Home'. Rather telling, don't you think?

      Anyway, this is my answer and comment to the problem of depression in the elderly.

    • greatstuff profile image

      Mazlan 5 years ago from Malaysia

      Hi TLC, Thanks for stopping by and commenting. You have shared some good ideas and what food to take and avoid. You have also shared some of your issues and these are real issues. I'm 59 years old now and I have seen how the young and old suffered due to problems such as depression. I take note of your comment and I hope things will get easier. Have a good weekend and Happy Holidays.

    • profile image

      TCL 5 years ago

      I'm elderly, led a life of misery, climbed out by my own bootstraps every time, and learned from it, so I guess I can speak on the topic.

      If you want me happy--take out my trash bags that get heavier every year that passes. If you visit me, bring some of the refreshments and pitch in to clean up afterward--in kindness to my bad heart and below-poverty social security income!

      When my cognitive faculties began to fail, I learned that low thyroid can do that, as can a slew of other things. But one thing I could afford to try,with my doctor's permission, was a product that repaired and regrew the myelin sheaths around the nerves in the brain (and body, too, I suppose). Well, that worked well enough that my doctor was happy about it. Me being used to melancholy as a standard normality of life, I allowed myself to feel a little relieved, was all....

      One caveat--Brown rice may fix mood swings, though I should think wild rice would be more effective; but any high-lectin food is risky, especially where there is already a damaged system. Gluten is one of the many plant lectins but they all are bad on the body, and the only way to defend against them is to avoid them 100% (impossible), or else take one of the products specifically designed to provide anti-lectin with sacrificial sugars for the lectins to latch onto instead of latching on to the body's cell sugars--thereby destroying that cell.

      You guys have some great ideas--but please dig a little deeper before you support any modality.

    • greatstuff profile image

      Mazlan 5 years ago from Malaysia

      @leahlefler , meloncauli, and watergeek : caring for the elderly can be challenging at times. They can be 'stubborn' and in our opinion, 'will not listen' to our advice. They have their own reason and I pray that when I reach that age, things will work out fine, whatever that mean!

    • watergeek profile image

      watergeek 5 years ago from Pasadena CA

      Both of my parents suffered from depression when they grew older. I think my sister had the best opportunity to help them - which she did - since she had a family with young kids. The rest of us visited them whenever we went to visit her. Thanks for this hub. What you say is very true.

    • meloncauli profile image

      meloncauli 5 years ago from UK

      This is a great hub and very interesting. I know my dad is suffering with some amount of depression but he wont admit it. I guess he feels it will appear weak.

    • leahlefler profile image

      Leah Lefler 5 years ago from Western New York

      This is a great reminder for those who are caring for parents (or grandparents) suffering with depression. A lot of times, the elderly are overlooked when it comes to mental health needs. You have wonderful advice here, greatstuff!

    • greatstuff profile image

      Mazlan 5 years ago from Malaysia

      @SidKemp, Caring and connecting are indeed more important than diagnosis. It is also a lot less expensive! Thanks for your input and sharing your own experience.

      @teaches12345 Thank you and I'm glad to hear that this was helpful.

      @Om, Thanks for stopping by and leaving your comment

      @lindacee I would think that alcoholism, late in life, could be related to depression. Thanks for your input and your compliment

    • lindacee profile image

      lindacee 5 years ago from Arizona

      I understand that alcoholism (appearing late in life) is also a prevalent problem among the elderly. I would assume this goes hand in hand with depression. I liked how you included ways to identify depression and a variety of methods to help those affected. Thanks for sharing this valuable info.

    • Om Paramapoonya profile image

      Om Paramapoonya 5 years ago

      Wonderful hub! I agree it could be difficult to tell whether an elderly person is suffering from depression or not. Most people just assume it's normal for elderly seniors to appear inactive, disinterested or quiet, but in fact, these things can be tell-tale signs of depression.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

      You have mentioned some interesting tips on this subject: massage, sunshine and brown rice. I would not have known how much this helps if I hadn't read your post. Well done!

    • SidKemp profile image

      Sid Kemp 5 years ago from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach)

      Thanks, Greatstuff. Your approach is right on. Loving care, listening, playing, and interaction, and attention to all health issues and emotional concerns is a great approach to depression for the old, young, and middle aged. Most of the time, caring and connecting are more important than diagnosis. My wife's father recently moved into a memory care facility, and we try to make sure he has a visitor 5 to 7 days a week.

    • profile image

      kumar24894 5 years ago from Fuck of HUBPAGES

      You are welcome :)

    • greatstuff profile image

      Mazlan 5 years ago from Malaysia

      kumar24894 , you are right. Thanks for reminding us that stress and depression can lead to weight gain.

    • profile image

      kumar24894 5 years ago from Fuck of HUBPAGES

      Depression and stress can lead to gain in weight.


    • greatstuff profile image

      Mazlan 5 years ago from Malaysia

      @lambservant, yes you are right. St John's Wort does interfere with prescribe medication. Thanks for the additional input and sharing these useful information.

      @spartucusjones, thanks for for bringing up these very good points

      @jpcmc, it is good that your grandma wants to be among family and friends. That is a healthy sign. Thanks for sharing.

    • jpcmc profile image

      JP Carlos 5 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines

      How we see old age is very different. More so if you're already a senior. Regardless of how you see getting older, communicatino with family and friends will always be important. Every bit of support is appreciated. At least this is what I saw in my grandmother. The older she got the more she wanted to be with family and friends.

    • spartucusjones profile image

      CJ Baker 5 years ago from Parts Unknown

      Very practical and well developed hub! It has been said that one parent can parent can look after 10 children, but ten children can't look after one parent. A good reminder for those that have elderly parents. We want to do what we can to care for them and we want to be on the look out for any signs of depression.

    • lambservant profile image

      Lori Colbo 5 years ago from Pacific Northwest

      Wonderful hub and great advice. I would add that if your elderly loved one is taking medication for depression check with a pharmacist before adding natural remedies such as St John's wort. The combination of some natural herbal substances can actually cause harm. In fact it is important to talk to their doctor before adding anything not prescribed because some vitamins, foods and over the counter meds can clash with already prescribed meds. Thank you for this very good hub.

    • greatstuff profile image

      Mazlan 5 years ago from Malaysia

      @dinkan53, you are right. Loss of brain stimulation can be a big problem and could later lead to stressful situation and hence to depression. Thanks for the input.

    • dinkan53 profile image

      dinkan53 5 years ago from India

      The negative outcomes, especially for older retired people can be the loss of brain stimulation. Glad to know that brown rice can prevent mood swings. This is a useful article, rated up.

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