Depression and Older Adults

Disclaimer: Views expressed in Bob’s Blog belong solely to the author and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the CAC Office in Aging or its staff. Posted January 18, 2022.


Let me tell you. Sometime ago I really screwed up in one of my posts.

That post was about Loneliness and Depression. In it, I treated Depression too lightly. It is far more serious than I indicated. If you want to read that post, please click here.

Please accept my apology for doing that.

I’d Like to Set the Record Straight

Here is what I have learned.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, “Depression (major depressive disorder) is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act.”

Here are some interesting facts the Hope for Depression Research Foundation has about this illness:

• Depression accounts for 99% of all mental disorders in the United States.

• In any year it affects one in every ten adults. That is 19 million people.

• It is the primary reason people die of suicide. One occurs every 14 minutes.

• It costs American businesses $100 Billion every year.

• There are 34 million people over 65 in this county. 2 million of those suffer from depression.

The antidepressants for this condition were developed over 30 years ago. Those prescribed today are based on the same formulas. Sadly, these drugs do not help people with a major depressive disorder.

You May Not Like What I Am About to Tell You

The number of people living in Tennessee who are depressed is very high. In 2021, the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) reported 41.7% of adults in Tennessee had symptoms of anxiety and depression. That was the highest in the nation. The average nationally was 32.1%.

I couldn’t find any recent statistics on how many older people in Tennessee are suffering from Depression. I assume it’s pretty close to the 41.7% mentioned above.

There are Different Types of Depression

Here are the most common types older people experience:

• A Major Depressive Disorder – This is severe depression where the person has difficulty doing any of their normal daily activities.

• A Persistent Depressive Disorder – Here the depression lasts for over 2 years but the person is still able to carry out his or her daily activities.

• Depression induced by alcohol, drugs or substances.

• Depression caused by medical conditions – Some of these are strokes, cancer, heart disease and multiple sclerosis.

• Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) – Here the absence of sunlight for a significant amount of time daily causes people to feel depressed. This is more common in a state like Michigan where the days are cloudy for most of the winter. Michigan is surrounded on 3 sides by the Great Lakes. SAD occurs less frequently here in Tennessee.

As we age, there is going to come a point where it is no longer advisable for us to continue to drive. For some of us, driving is not only the way we get around, it is also something we take much pride in. Many become depressed when they no longer can drive.

Depression and Older Americans

An organization, Mental Health America, surveyed older Americans. It found:

• Approximately 68% of adults aged 65 and over know little or almost nothing about depression.

• Only 38% of adults aged 65 and over believe that depression is a “health” problem.

• If they are depressed, older adults are more likely than any other group to “handle it themselves.” Only 42% would seek help from a health professional.

• About 58% of people aged 65 and older believe that it is “normal” for people to get depressed as they grow older.

The National Council on Aging reports that those 85 and older are most likely to experience the most severe form of depression.

The Stigma About Depression

Older people don’t want others to know they are depressed because of the stigma they have about the condition.

When they were growing up, people with mental problems were looked down upon. They were called crazy. Some even may have said they were demon possessed.

Behind their backs, people made fun of them. Treatment for them was lacking.

Those with the most severe Major Depressive Disorders were placed in “Mental Asylums” or Psychiatric Hospitals. Most of these did not allow regular visitors. The patients were kept out of the public eye. Many were so heavily medicated others called them Zombies. Electro Shock was common.

Older adults today have not forgotten this. They still have a bad opinion of mental problems. If they themselves are depressed, they try to conceal it and handle it themselves because they’re afraid of how their families and friends may react.

Some try to correct the way by self-medicating with alcohol or drugs. This can lead to more serious problems.

Most people are unaware the symptoms of Depression in older people can be different from those in younger people. Here are some:

• The happy, fun person in the past is now cynical and sad.

• They no longer have any interest in getting out with other people or spending time on hobbies they enjoyed.

• They complain they have no energy. They frequently are not motivated to do things.

• They have no appetite and lose weight.

• They have trouble falling asleep or getting a good night’s sleep. They also are not motivated to get up and out of bed.

• Their speech is much slower.

• They are drinking more alcohol or taking more drugs.

• Their memory is slipping.

• They stop taking good care of themselves. They don’t shower or bathe as frequently, they skip meals and forget to take their medications as prescribed.

When you see an older person who has any of these symptoms, please talk with them. Find out what is happening and what they’re feeling. If you can, please see if you can help them.

Older people may have been depressed at various points in their lives. However, they may have never been treated for it. If they have children, their children may also be depressed.

How Can You help a Depressed Older Adult?

In some families, Depression may have existed for a long time. In my own family, I can track it back to my grandparents. It may have existed before that but I don’t know anything about my great grandparents and those who preceded them.

My mother’s parents suffered from it. My mother was depressed. At various times I myself have had mild depression. My daughters have also suffered from it.

I cannot help my family members when they’re depressed because we are too close. However, I have recommended they see therapists and get support from other people.

If you have been depressed and have current family members who are experiencing it, don’t try to help them with it. Refer them to people who can help.

If you have never been depressed but one of your family members or friends is severely depressed, help them find a good doctor or therapist.

If they are older, they may have a stigma about people with depression and may not want to see a doctor or a therapist. Encourage them to do so. Also encourage them to continue to see them. If necessary, take them to their appointments.

Follow up with them to learn what their doctor or therapist recommends and support them in following through on this. If medication is prescribed, check to make sure they’re taking it. If you see it’s not working, have them let their doctor know.

If they have cut back or stopped taking their prescriptions because of the cost, the Affordable Medical Options for Seniors (AMOS) program at the Office on Aging may be able to help. You or they can contact them. The phone number is 865-524-2786. Another option is to send an email to

Don’t let them stay home and avoid others. Suggest they get together with their friends on a regular basis. This can be going out and doing something or just talking over the phone.

Find out what hobbies or activities they liked to do. If they’re not still doing these, encourage them to resume these regularly.

Encourage them to do volunteer work in the community. This may be at their church or with a non-profit organization. The Office on Aging has many different opportunities for people to serve and is always looking for volunteers to help. This will get them out of the house and take their mind off what is concerning them.

Have them get away from home for a while. This can be for a weekend or even a day. It might just be to visit a friend or family member.

Keep in contact with them regularly. Encourage other family members or friends to do so, too.

When spending time with them, don’t monopolize the conversations. Let them speak. Have them tell you about what’s happening and how they feel.

Depressed People Frequently Blame Themselves for What They’re Feeling

They don’t want others to know. So, they will isolate from everyone. This just intensifies their Depression. You want to keep them from doing this without letting them know what you’re doing.

I just want to apologize again for treating this subject too lightly in my earlier post. I hope you find the information in this one helpful. I also hope you can use it to help a loved one or friend who may be depressed.


If you have any comments on what you have read in this post, I would love to get them. Please email them to me. Also – if you have any ideas about subjects you would like to see discussed in future posts, please send me an email and let me know. My email address is