How to Know if an Older Adult is Depressed

The good news: we’re living at a time when there are tons of effective and safe treatments for both anxiety and depression.
September 3, 2023
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Anxiety and depression are common at all ages. Evidence suggests that rates of depression in older adults are not necessarily higher than the general population, but those experiencing it may not seek help: only 10% of adults over 65 get treatment.

The good news: we’re living at a time when there are tons of effective and safe treatments for both anxiety and depression.

What To Do If You Think Someone Has GAD or Depression

Talk To Their Physician

If you think you or a loved one has anxiety or depression, the first step is to talk to your physician, who can help you create a plan of action. They prescribe medication or refer you to an appropriate mental health professional. If they think medication could be part of the treatment, this will likely be a psychiatrist or APRN (psychiatric nurse practitioner) who has the ability to prescribe.

Find a Geriatric Psychiatrist

Geriatric psychiatry is a field of medicine focused on mental wellbeing in older adults. They have particular expertise in depression, mood disorders, and dementia, and can tailor treatment to your specific stage of life.

Unfortunately, geriatric psychiatrists are in high demand, and low supply, and many states have very few practitioners. Still, it’s worth asking your physician if they know of one or Googling to find one in your area.

Consider Medication (With a Physician)

Medication has been found to be highly effective in the treatment of both depression and anxiety, and finding the antidepressant can be enormously beneficial for someone struggling. It’s important to work with your physician to find one that won’t negatively interact with other medications.

Widely-prescribed anti-anxiety medications like Xanax and Ativan can increase fall risk amongst older adults. While they can still be taken, it’s important to do it with correct dosing to minimize risk.

Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) are two great behavioral practices that can be practiced in a group or individually. CBT involves efforts to change thinking patterns, and DBT is a type of CBT that helps increase mindfulness, develop healthy ways to cope with stress, and regulate their emotions.

You can often find many great providers for CBT and DBT in your area to do work virtually or in-person. There are also a ton of fantastic online tools, like Headspace meditation, that provide great behavioral skills at your fingertips.

Note that if you’re struggling with any sort of cognitive impairment, CBT and DBT are not the right fit, as they require strong memory recall and the ability to repeatedly and diligently practice the skills you’re learning. A mental health provider can work with a patient with cognitive impairment to create the right treatment plan.

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