The Four Most Unexpected Behavioral Changes in the Elderly – Is this Normal? Part IV (Final)


In parts I, II, and III of this series, we’ve explored changes in hygiene, anger, and paranoia as three of the most unanticipated changes in behavior that you may have noticed beginning to occur in your own aging parent. More than that, I offered my own opinion on when the line between “normal aging” and “time to see a physician” might be crossed in each scenario. (To read any or all of my prior posts, please follow this link.)


Today we’ll close this series with what I consider to be the fourth most unexpected behavioral change that any adult child anticipates seeing in his or her aging parent: depression. I’m including it here because it is so vitally important that it should never be ignored. (So there’s the answer to when it’s time to see a professional right there: always seek help for your aging parent who is showing signs of depression. I will provide a comprehensive list of symptoms further down in this post.)


  1. IV. Depression

I’d like to differentiate here between that which is “normal” and that which is simply under-recognized and/or under-treated. Depression is not necessarily a typical function of aging, nor should we ever settle for this way of life for someone we love. However, there is a strong likelihood of depression’s co-occurrence along with the presence of certain debilitating, long-term diseases and certain unpleasant life events, such as the death of a loved one or the social and economic status changes that may correlate with aging.

Again, I cannot stress strongly enough the importance of seeking help for an elderly person who is suffering from depression. Like other illnesses mentioned in the earlier posts, this is yet another malady which impacts older people far differently than it does younger ones. In the elderly, depression increases the risk of death from other illness, is associated with an increased likelihood of cardiac disease and stroke, as well as inhibits the ability to recuperate from most any medical setback.

The good news is, unlike other medical conditions, depression is highly treatable with a combination of medicine and/or psychotherapy. Unfortunately, the older generation in which our parents came up is known for being both more stoic as well as more conscious of keeping certain types of personal information under wraps. Many seniors don’t necessarily think of depression as a health problem per se, but more of something to be “handled on one’s own.” It’s unwise to leave this particular change in behavior to the detection of others. This one is really up to us, the adult children, to detect, and to point out to health care professionals.

Some sobering statistics

Without help, depression in the elderly can take a deadly turn. Statistics on suicide and the elderly are downright staggering. Suicide among older with males is disproportionately higher than all other age demographics. Additionally, World Health Organization Studies show that approximately 70 percent of those elderly people who have committed suicide had seen their primary care doctors within just one month of their deaths.


As the primary family member and/or caretakers in your parent’s life, the burden falls on us, the adult children, to stave off any difficulties or uncertainties our parents may face, including illness. In fact, a National Institute of Mental Health study shows that intervention by close family members is key to decreasing suicidal thoughts and successfully improving depression in the elderly. That’s pretty much the magic formula: inclusion; along with professional treatment and appropriate follow up.

Signs of depression in seniors

The symptoms of depression in the elderly include:

  • Apathy/slow movement and/or speech
  • Loss of interest in hobbies and other interests
  • Lack of motivation and energy
  • Withdrawal and isolation
  • Unexplained physical aches and pains
  • Irritability/anxiety/worry
  • Feelings of worthlessness (worrying about being a burden, self-loathing statements)
  • Neglecting personal care and hygiene
  • Sleep disturbances (too much or too little)
  • Lack of concentration
  • Increased use of alcohol and other substances
  • Changes in eating habits/weight loss
  • Sadness

If you suspect that your aging parent is suffering from depression, please don’t ignore the signs. Take your loved one for proper care. Above all, a senior who is suffering from depression needs someone who can be there to follow through with visits, phone calls, and help with medication planning and follow-through. Make sure your Mom or Dad gets out of the house for walks, visits to the library, outings to the mall, etc.

If I can help brainstorm in any way, please reach out to me.

All the best,

Rabbi Scott Saulson, Ph.D.

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