The majority of older people are not depressed, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but depression can occur in up to 13.5 percent of older patients. Older people face an increased risk for developing depression, in part because they are most likely to suffer other illnesses – such as cancer or heart disease – which can lead to depression.
To make matters worse, some doctors inexperienced in geriatrics may sometimes misdiagnose depression, mistakenly attributing the patient’s symptoms to a natural part of growing older. Many patients also make this mistake, not realizing that treating depression will make life better.
Fortunately, mental health researchers have developed a tool, known as the Geriatric Depression Scale (GDS), which older people can use to assess their own depression. Anyone can administer the test to themselves and interpret the results immediately.
The original Geriatric Depression Scale-Long Form (GDS-L) asks 30 Yes/No questions. That version can be too difficult or time-consuming for some patients to complete, so geriatric mental health professionals created a short form that poses only 15 questions. This test takes approximately five to seven minutes to take, making it the ideal length for busy older adults.
Ten of the 15 questions indicate the presence of depression when the patient answers “yes” and five of the questions indicate depression when the individual answers “no.” This makes it easy for anyone to interpret the results with very little room for error.
Questions are easy to understand. The first question on both the 15- and 30-item test is “Are you basically satisfied with your life?” Other questions include, “Are you afraid that something bad is going to happen to you?” and “Do you have trouble concentrating?”
Scientists have also developed briefer 10-, 4-, and 1-question versions of the test but these shorter versions may not detect depression as well as the longer versions.
Depression in the geriatric population is a significant health issue. Fortunately, depression is treatable at any age. Any older person concerned about depression, or any family member worried about depression in a loved one, should contact a mental health professional familiar with geriatrics for more information on depression in the elderly.