Depression in Older Adults

This is the first of a series of articles pertaining to issues important to seniors.

Harry, age eighty-seven, was an avid gardener, and his tomatoes were always his pride and joy. He had suffered a stroke, and had been placed in a long-term care facility. He was withdrawn, refused to participate in physical therapy and had been diagnosed as depressed.

One day, a friend came to visit and brought him a miniature tomato plant as a gift. One of the aides suggested that Harry help her replant the tomato into a bigger pot so it could grow. What was noted was that as the little plant grew, so did Harry’s interest and interaction. He cared for the plant, keeping it moist and turning the soil. Noting this new interest, a larger box was obtained and Harry planted more, and soon was “in charge” of most of the plant life in the reception area. Finding new meaning in previously enjoyed activities began to turn life around for Harry. He began to participate in physical and occupational therapy and was even known to sport a smile or two. As his tomato plant grew and bloomed, so did Harry.

The process of aging creates new and sometimes challenging experiences. These can include retirement, the death of loved ones, loss of mobility, and medical problems, all of which may lead to decreased mobility and increased isolation.

Depression is one of the more prevalent issues in older adults and often affects their quality of life. The effects of depression are far more serious than being sad, feeling down, or in a “depressed mood.” Depression also impacts your energy, sleep, appetite, and physical health. However, depression is not a normal part of aging.

Depression in older adults and the elderly is often linked to physical illness, which can increase the risk for depression. Chronic pain and physical disability can understandably get you down. Symptoms of depression can also occur as part of medical problems such as dementia or as a side effect of prescription drugs.

It is also possible that a person’s depressive symptoms could be a result of polypharmacy interactions. Those who are on multiple medications are at a higher risk for depression.

If you’re depressed, you may not want to do anything or see anybody. But isolation and inactivity only make depression worse. The more active you are—physically, mentally, and socially—the better you’ll feel.

  • Physical activity has powerful mood-boosting effects. In fact, research suggests it may be just as effective as antidepressants in relieving depression. The best part is that the benefits come without side effects.
  • Connect with others, face to face whenever possible. Getting the support you need plays a big role in lifting the fog of depression and keeping it away.
  • Get enough sleep. When you don’t get enough sleep, your depression symptoms can be worse. Aim for somewhere between 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night.
  • Maintain a healthy diet. Avoid eating too much sugar and junk food.
  • Participate in activities you enjoy. Pursue whatever hobbies or pastimes bring or used to bring you joy.
  • Volunteer your time. Helping others is one of the best ways to feel better about yourself and expand your social network.
  • Take care of a pet. A pet can keep you company, and walking a dog, for example, can be good exercise for you and a great way to meet people.
  • Learn a new skill. Pick something that you’ve always wanted to learn, or that sparks your imagination and creativity.
  • Create opportunities to laugh. Laughter provides a mood boost, so swap humorous stories and jokes with your loved ones, watch a comedy, or read a funny book.

For more information on senior or homebound care, visit or call (765) 361-0600. Home by Choice has offices in Crawfordsville, Frankfort and Lafayette.

Robert Cook is a Registered Financial Consultant, Certified Senior Advisor, Executive Director of Abilities Services and CEO of Home by Choice, which is a locally owned and operated non-medical personal and companion care business.