Can You Detect Depression in Seniors Over Zoom?

senior couple using tablet to facetime
Senior depression is a serious but treatable condition.

The isolation and fear brought on by COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on the wellbeing of older adults, with nearly half of seniors surveyed in a Kaiser Family Foundation poll stating that their level of stress and worry was negatively impacting their health. And while it still may be unsafe to visit in person with senior loved ones, it’s crucial to stay in frequent and regular contact, and to watch for any changes or signs that may indicate a mental health concern, such as depression in seniors.

According to psychiatrist Judith Feld, MD, MPH, “If a senior usually really enjoys a call with a grandchild, for example, but that seems to have changed, maybe you need to ask more questions, such as, ‘How can we be of help?’”

Other signs of depression to watch for include sleeping problems, loss of appetite, lethargy, and complaints about pain, which surprisingly, is often one of the key symptoms of depression in the elderly. Take note of anything that is out of the ordinary for a senior’s personality and character.

It’s important to understand that depression in seniors is not simply an unavoidable aspect of growing older, and that it is a serious – but treatable – condition. 

Here are some additional tips to help effectively assess a senior’s mental health:

  • Keep the conversations natural and organic, without coming across as interrogating. Statements such as, “Tell me what’s been happening in your life this week,” will encourage a senior to open up more than, “Tell me what the doctor said at your last appointment.” The goal is to be caring but not condescending, being careful not to try to parent your parents.
  • While seeing and talking with the grandkids on Zoom is a great way to boost a senior’s mood, be sure to allow for some one-on-one time to talk without children present. 
  • Pay attention to what’s going on in the background of your video chats for any additional clues, such as whether the home looks clean and well maintained, as well as personal hygiene – unkempt, disheveled hair, for example.
  • Consider whether substance abuse may be a factor. An increase in alcohol consumption during the pandemic is occurring in people of all ages, and can be especially harmful if there are potential interactions with medications the senior is taking.

If you suspect depression or any other mental health issues in your senior loved one, be sure to contact the doctor immediately. Since you are most familiar with the senior, you may be able to pick up on cues that the medical team misses during routine appointments, and it’s crucial to make your concerns known.

If you have any concerns, contact JFS Care, the top-rated caregiver agency in Los Angeles, CA and the surrounding areas, for additional assistance. We can offer coaching and support to family caregivers with our care management services, serve as eyes and ears when family caregivers are unable to be there in person, and provide seniors with a wide range of customized services to enhance their socialization and quality of life. Contact us online or call us at (213)383-2273 to learn more.