Your Aging Parents and Depression: Part 1- Warning Signs to Watch For

What’s the fastest growing population in the world?
If you guessed people over 65, you were right! As of now, 40 million Americans are over 65.
By 2030, this population could reach 72 million. Your aging parents may be part of this senior citizen explosion.

How much do we know about the mental health needs of older people? For one thing, 97 percent of students in medical schools have zero training in this area. This helps explain why depression often goes undiagnosed and untreated. Late-onset depression impacts roughly 2 million older adults in America. Experts believe that estimate is low.

3 Reasons Why Depression in Seniors is Under-Diagnosed

1. Everything gets chalked up to “aging.”

Your mother loses her balance. Your father has trouble sleeping. They both complain about aches more. “It’s a normal part of aging.” We hear this excuse so often. Furthermore, we might even repeat it without thinking.

2. Medication is the default modality.

We have another automatic belief: Seniors aren’t open to one-on-one counseling. As a result, everything is treated with a pill. Research shows, however, that seniors can and will respond well to therapy.

3. It’s not a major problem.

This is a deadly myth. Reality: The growing over-65 population has the highest suicide rate of any age group in the U.S. This population makes up 13 percent of Americans. However, seniors account for 20 percent of all suicides.

There are many factors we need to consider when caring for our aging parents. Our loved ones rely on us to help them. They also rely on us to not underestimate them or their symptoms.

“Old people” are often lumped into general categories. Pop culture teaches us that they’re always cranky. We see them as tired or sad or forgetful. Conversely, we want to show love and support for our aging parents. This means we must set aside old beliefs and take a much closer look.

Late-Onset Depression: Warning Signs to Watch For

1. Re-examine what you perceive as “normal”

  • Decreased concentration and focus

  • Difficulty making decisions (big or small)

  • Chronic crankiness, agitation, and irritability

  • Low energy

  • Slow movements and/or speech

  • Balance issues

  • Memory issues

2. Physical signs

  • Chronic pain: from minor aches to debilitating discomfort

  • Major changes in eating habits

  • Major changes in sleeping habits

  • Weight loss or gain

3. Life pattern changes

  • They avoid doing their regular, day-to-day activities

  • Lose interest in who or what they once enjoyed

  • Become isolated and withdrawn

  • Avoid social contact

4. Things take a much darker turn

  • Sadness that does not go away

  • They describe themselves as “helpless,” “worthless,” or “hopeless”

  • Talk of death and/or suicide

Do you recognize any of these symptoms? If so, a good first step is to consider possible causes for them. In the process, you’ll also be examining possible causes for depression.

Medication Side Effects

Common geriatric medications can cause depression-like symptoms. They can also cause depression. Talk with your parents and talk with their doctors to learn more.

Dementia vs. Depression

Not everything is caused by age-related dementia. For example, dementia-related memory loss emerges slowly. It often goes unnoticed by the person experiencing it. Late-onset depression can bring on forgetfulness rather quickly. Your aging parents will most certainly be aware of this change.

Death of Spouse

As our parents age, many of their friends will get ill and die. The death of a spouse, however, is the big one. It can cause a sudden rush of symptoms. It can lead to depression. Talk to your aging parents about counseling in advance.

Help your parents get the most from their golden years, physically and emotionally. Encourage honest, supportive interaction and consider local resources to ensure your parent’s ongoing mental health and happiness.


For help in navigating the emotional challenges of caring for aging parents. please contact our intake team at the Center for Mindful Psychotherapy: call us at (415) 766-0276; or email us at intakes@mindfulcenter.org.