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Depression in older adults is not a natural part of aging and can contribute to overall health decline and  symptoms of dementia. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), depression affects about 1%-5% of the general elderly population, 13.5% in elderly who require home healthcare, and 11.5% in older hospital patients. The symptoms of depression in older adults can resemble normal aging or can be mistaken for other illnesses. Symptoms include feeling slowed down, excessive worries about finances and health, feeling helpless, difficulty sleeping, unexplained physical pain, and social withdrawal.

Assessment Tools


Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ) Screeners

Recognizing signs of mental health disorders is not always easy. The Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ) is a diagnostic tool for mental health disorders used by health care professionals that is quick and easy for patients to complete. In the mid-1990s, Robert L. Spitzer, MD, Janet B.W. Williams, DSW, and Kurt Kroenke, MD, and colleagues at Columbia University developed the Primary Care Evaluation of Mental Disorders (PRIME-MD), a diagnostic tool containing modules on 12 different mental health disorders. They worked in collaboration with researchers at the Regenstrief Institute at Indiana University and with the support of an educational grant from Pfizer Inc. During the development of PRIME-MD, Drs. Spitzer, Williams and Kroenke, created the PHQ and GAD-7 screeners.

American Psychological Association provides assessment tools for geriatric depression. Information from the APA on the Geriatric Depression Scale can be found, here.

A short form Geriatric Depression Scale can be found here, downloadable pdf



Agencies and Community Resources​


Organizations for more information on outreach, clinical trials, and policy on mental health:

National Institute of Mental Health
1-866-615-6464 (toll-free)


National Alliance on Mental Health

Educational Materials 


The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and Administration on Aging (AoA) collaborated to support the coordination of care between aging and behavioral health services for older adults. Read, "Older Americans Behavioral Health Issue Brief 4: Preventing Suicide in Older Adults", here.

Read, "Older Americans Behavioral Health Issue Brief 6: Depression and Anxiety: Screening and Intervention", here.

Educational Videos

Treatment of Depression in Older Adults | Evidence-Based Practices - SAMHSA

Evidence-Based Mental Health/Primary Care Integration Strategies By Dr. Azrin - SAMHSA

Aging Well – Addressing Behavioral Health with Older Adults in Primary Care Settings - SAMHSA

The best way to help is often just to listen - Sophie Andrews TEDMed

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