Clinical Depression, Older Individuals, and Assisted Living: What You Need to Know

The natural aging process comes with an array of challenges that are to be expected and that fall within a range of what is considered “normal.” With that said, while it occurs with alarming frequency among older individuals, depression is not a normal outcome of the natural aging process. Rather, and as is discussed in greater detail in a moment, depression is a clinically or medically recognized mood disorder that can be addressed and treated. 

In this article, we discuss clinical depression among older women and men in detail. We also present information about how assisted living can be a solid and effective solution for an older individual who is diagnosed with depression.

Definition of Depression

Clinical depression, also medically known as major depressive disorder, is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. Clinical depression can impact how a person thinks and behaves. Depression has the capability to lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems. An individual with depression may have trouble undertaking normal day-to-day activities. A person with depression, including an older individual, sometimes may feel as if life isn’t worth living.

More than just a proverbial bout of the blues, clinical depression is not a weakness. A person cannot simply “snap out” of it. Depression may require long-term treatment. With that said, more often than not clinical depression is effectively treated through professional assistance. 

Risk Factors and Causes of Depression Among Older Adults

Among the senior adult population, depression can be brought on for a variety of reasons. In this section, we discuss the four broad categories of causes of depression among older women and men:

  • Co-occurring conditions
  • Medications
  • Diminished independence
  • Stress

Co-Occurring Conditions

  • Depression in older adults can co-occur with other serious medical illnesses. Diagnosis of these conditions and associated potential or actual loss of functioning can induce depressive feelings and episodes. These include:
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Dementia
  • Diabetes
  • Cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Parkinson’s disease. 


Sometimes medications taken for physical illnesses have the potential to cause side effects that have the capacity to contribute to clinical depression. Alternative medications are a potential solution. 

Diminished Independence

It can be very difficult for a once-independent adult to lose the ability to drive. It is challenging to begin to require assistance with daily activities. The suggestion of assistance may seem intrusive and worrisome, leaving older adults feeling helpless, weak, and despondent. This can lead to clinical depression.


Feeling overwhelmed by life and all its changes can be stress-inducing. This particularly is the case for older adults. Fears surrounding dying, disease, and getting older can easily lead to anxiety, hopelessness, and ultimately clinical depression. 

Treatment Options for Seniors With Depression

A variety of treatment options and one living opportunity exist to aid an older individual suffering from clinical depression. These include:

  • Psychotherapy or counseling
  • Group therapy
  • Reminiscence therapy
  • Medication
  • Assisted living

Psychotherapy or Counseling

Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, can be beneficial to older people to manage stress, learn new ways to deal with emotions, and find new perspectives on their problems. It can also make it easier to stick to one’s other treatments, like a medication regimen. Psychotherapy can be very useful and effective when an older individual is dealing with depression. 

Group Therapy

Group therapy helps people with conditions like depression and anxiety realize they are not alone in their struggles. Group therapy provides a sense of community. Group therapy can also offer unique insight into how other people manage depression. 

Reminiscence Therapy

Reminiscence therapy is of fairly recent origin. Reminiscence therapy offers an opportunity to reexamine a person’s life experiences and find a sense of acceptance. Reminiscence therapy can help older adults cope with loss and life transitions. 


Antidepressant medications have been proven to be safe and effective in older adults. These medications reduce symptoms of depression that include: 

  • Restlessness
  • Anxiety
  • Sleep problems

Assisted Living

Finally, as is discussed in detail in a moment, assisted living can be a wise course of action for an older individual that labors under clinical depression. There is a myriad of benefits associated with an older adult suffering from depression moving into an assisted living community. 

Benefits of Assisted Living for Seniors With Depression

  • Prevents isolation
  • Reduces stressors
  • Encourages physical activity
  • Ensures a healthy diet
  • Provides medical support and medication management
  • Promotes self-care

Prevents Isolation

Senior adults living alone are at a notably higher risk of social isolation. Social isolation can lead to increased feelings of:

  • Loneliness
  • Despair
  • Depression

In an assisted living community, senior adults reside in a community with others who can become friends as well as staff who lessen or eliminate a sense of isolation. Assisted living allows for extensive, healthy socialization. Socialization is understood to be important in combating clinical depression among older individuals. 

Reduces Stressors

Another way in which assisted living can benefit an individual with clinical depression is found in the fact that this type of living environment reduces stressors in an older individual’s life. For those who struggle with depression, weighting responsibility can hinder emotional progress. Assisted living facilities often offer support in regard to a variety of activities of daily living. These can include: 

  • Light housekeeping
  • Laundry
  • Meal preparation
  • Transportation
  • Medication management
  • And other tasks

Assisted living also offers resident three nutritious meals a day, enriching activities and events, and other programming.  

Encourages Physical Activity

Getting regular exercise is a great method of keeping a balanced mood, staving off depression, or relieving depression. Assisted living communities offer many fitness and physical therapy programs to keep seniors active and well. An example of this type of programming brought into assisted living communities or otherwise made available to residents include SilverSneakers. 

Fitness programs are also catered to seniors and specific medical conditions. Staying active in organized group settings can also help seniors keep their bodies engaged in healthy ways. Opportunities for physical fitness in assisted living go far beyond what family caregivers can easily provide at home.

Ensures a Healthy Diet

Nutrition is a major part of maintaining good physical and mental health. A nutrient-rich, flavorful diet can ward off depressive episodes as well as assist an individual in addressing and recovering from clinical depression. For seniors living at home, maintaining a healthy and well-balanced diet can be very difficult. Even with the assistance of a family caretaker, establishing and maintaining a consistently healthy diet can be challenging. As a consequence, many senior individuals suffer from a poor diet. At an assisted living facility, three meals a day can be tailored to specific medical conditions. These meals are tasty and nutritious. 

Provides Medical Support and Medication Management

For residents of assisted living facilities who suffer from depression, medical supervision provides them with the assistance required to manage dosages of medication prescribed to alleviate the symptoms of depression. Medicine management also is effective in assisting with other illnesses as well. Additionally, there are some side effects and drug interactions that need to be carefully monitored. At an assisted living facility, a trained staff member can oversee and control the administration of medication, monitor side effects, and ensure that a resident is not potentially harmful to his or her self or others.

Promotes Self-Care

While these communities are a great place to receive customized care services, assistance is provided with an eye on independence of residents of assisted living. Caregivers work to ensure residents are doing all that they can to take care of themselves and to live as independently as possible. It is important to demonstrate a culture of care that will help to add quality of life. When a resident sees that he or she has support from the care staff, they can continue to maintain as much independence as safely possible. This process is important in addressing or preventing depression in an older individual. 

Other Resources for an Older American With Depression

There are a number of other resources that can benefit an elderly individual facing depression. We provide this basic information in the event you are in need of this type of assistance. In addition, if you are the adult child of a parent suffering from depression, these resources can prove valuable to you. 

Find a therapist tool:

Psychology Today helps those seeking treatment by providing a directory of board-certified psychologists across the United States. 

Find a geriatric psychiatrist tool:

The American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry provides help to older adults through education, advocacy, and the support of medical providers in the geriatric mental health field.