How can seniors combat depression?

Excerpt: Depression is the most common mental illness in older adults, but it’s often overlooked. Recognizing the signs and symptoms is an important first step to combatting depression. Regular exercise, frequent social interactions, healthy eating and daily meditation can be effective ways to lift your mood and beat the blues. Seeking counselling or therapy from a trained professional may also help ease depression.

World Mental Health Day,* held on October 10, and Mental Health Awareness Week* (October 6-12), help to raise awareness about depression, the most common mental illness managed by older adults,* according to the Canadian Coalition for Seniors’ Mental Health (CCSMH).

Depression is often overlooked in older adults because people sometimes think it’s a normal response to the losses of aging,* according to Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH).

What are the signs and symptoms of depression?

Recognizing depression starts with knowing the signs and symptoms. CAMH says these may include*:

  • Not getting dressed
  • Loss of interest in activities the person used to enjoy
  • Lack of energy
  • Sleeping poorly
  • Eating more or less than usual
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • and/or Neglecting personal care

When left untreated, depression can last for months or years, and greatly diminish a person’s quality of life. Fortunately, over 80% of people with depression respond well to treatment,* reports the Mood Disorders Society of Canada.

How to combat depression

Here are some things older adults can do to prevent or lessen the effects of depression:

  1. Exercise to beat the blues.
    Eighteen studies of older adults with depression showed that physical activities such as aerobic exercise, resistance training, tai chi and dancing* were effective in reducing depression symptoms, says McMaster University. Improved mood can also lead older adults to be more physically active,* reported an Annals of Behavioral Medicine study. So, the link between exercise and mood goes both ways. If a person feels depressed, starting exercise gradually – with short walks, for example – could provide a mini-boost that would help increase their level of physical activity and mood over time.

  2. Be social.
    Frequent face-to-face social interactions reduce the risk of depression for older adults,* reported a Journal of the American Geriatrics Society study.

  3. Healthy foods, healthy mood.
    People who eat a nutritious diet, high in fruit, vegetables, whole grains, fish, low-fat dairy and low in animal foods, are less likely to feel depressed,* according to a Psychiatry Research study.

  4. Focus on the moment.
    People who practice daily mindful meditation* have significantly lower rates of rates of depression and greater life satisfaction, says the Mood Disorders Society of Canada.

  5. Seek counselling or therapy.
    Your family physician, or a geriatrician, may be able to refer you to a trained professional,* who is qualified to help older adults with depression, advises CCSMH.

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*The following sources provide references for this blog, in order of appearance:
1. World Health Organization. “World Mental Health Day 2019: Focus on suicide prevention.” (2019), online:
2. Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health. “MIAW 2019 will be October 6-12, 2019.” (2019), online:
3. Canadian Coalition for Seniors’ Mental Health. “Depression in older adults: a guide for seniors and their families.” (2009), online:
4. Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. “Depression in older adults.” (2019), online:
5. Mood Disorders Society of Canada. “Depression in elderly.” (2010), online:
6. McMaster University. “Exercise plays an active role in depression.” (2016), online:
7. Chapman University. “Psychological well-being and physical activity in older adults.” (2016), online:
8. Psychology Today. “Face-to-face social contact reduces risk of depression.” (2015), online:
9. Psychiatry Research. “Dietary patterns and depression risk: A meta-analysis.” (2017), online: