Ask the Expert: Depression April 2024

Kate Pomplun

Ask the Expert: I just read that the highest suicide rate for any age is for adults 85+. This shocked me, and I’ve been spending more time visiting with my mother, who is now 92. I see signs of depression in my mom like avoiding socializing and sleeping all the time. I am scared that she may be become more depressed, but I don’t know how to help. What should I be looking for, and how can I help my mom feel better not just physically but mentally, too?

Sadly, you are correct that the rate of suicide is higher in older adults and continues to be on the rise for people 65 and older.

There are a number of different factors contributing to this (which you can read more about on the National Council of Aging’s page Understanding and Preventing Suicide in Older Adults ( but a significant factor is increased loneliness and instances of depression. Please know that increased loneliness and instances of depression do not mean your mom will become suicidal, yet your concern about her physical and mental health is important.

Symptoms of depression take on different forms for different people but can include those that you mentioned such as sleeping more, lack of motivation or desire to be social or engage in activities a person previously enjoyed. Other indicators can include eating more or less than usual, feelings of hopelessness, guilt, emptiness, irritability. Many of these are linked to physical health as well as circumstances in an older adult’s life.

Let’s look at a few factors that could be related to these symptoms in your mom’s case.

  • Is she avoiding social gatherings because she’s become more forgetful and feels embarrassed if she cannot keep up with the flow of conversation as she used to?
  • Does she have physical limitations now like using a walker or hearing difficulties that may also make her feel embarrassed or not able to keep up?
  • Has she lost close friends due to death, moving or their physical or mental health? Is it a matter of transportation if she’s no longer driving?

Some older adults who become widows or widowers find their social circles change if they were used to doing things with couples. This plus the grieving process can also contribute to depression, loneliness and isolation.

Professional evaluations and diagnosis are always important but can be a difficult topic to bring up, especially with certain generational cohorts for whom mental health concerns carry much stigma.

Having a discussion with your mom about your concerns is the first step. Mention that you’ve noticed the changes in socialization and sleep and ask about possible causes like those mentioned above. Maybe you can share some of the signs and symptoms with her and suggest you talk together with her primary care physician to start. Exercise can be a factor to help if done safely. Ask if there are ways to help her engage more socially, or sleep better so she doesn’t need to sleep as much in the daytime. If she is experiencing grief/depression, her doctor can help make a referral to a psychiatrist who can evaluate further. Chances are she’s undergoing a lot of changes physically, socially and mentally. She may benefit from a counselor to speak with about these and the impacts on her life.

She’s fortunate to have you and visiting with her when you’re able will make a difference. Maybe you can help her reconnect with friends or introduce her to some new ones. There may be a community center nearby with others looking to connect – some even provide transportation and congregate meals. Perhaps you can check one out together. The key is to keep the lines of communication open and let your mom know you’re there, listening and available if she needs any help.

Ask the Expert: Depression April 2024 was last modified: May 15th, 2024 by Sprout Media Lab Testing