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Heather Coakley, PsyD, M.S.W.
Ask the Expert Psychologist

February 2nd, 2008
I think my mom is depressed. She is 75 years old and she doesn't like to be involved in activities she used to love. No matter how much I encourage her to go out and be social, she wants to stay home. I'm getting frustrated. Her life could be so muc

Dear Concerned Loved One,

It sounds like you’re really worried about your mom because she’s not taking part in her life the way she used to. It also sounds like she’s not participating in activities that used to make her happy and she is isolating more than usual. I can understand why that would be frustrating and probably a little scary. And you’re right—it sounds like her life could be better. There are some questions I have regarding other signs and symptoms you might be seeing that lead you to the term “depression,” which is actually a clinical term that’s used to describe a whole set of symptoms. Are there other changes in her that you see- like with her appetite, memory, concentration or mood? Has she had any recent losses- of her own, like changes in her physical health, or has a friend or loved one recently passed away? There’s a difference between depression and sadness or grief although sometimes they can look very similar. Are there reasons why she’s not interested in going out other than possible depression? Have you spoken to her about that and asked what she thinks might be going on? Has she mentioned noticing any changes in her activity level or motivation? I’d like to refer you to an article “Depression and the Elderly” I wrote for AgingPro that goes into more detail about this subject and encourage you to remember to take care of yourself while you’re caring for your mom. Even though it’s sad, you also have to remember that people basically have the right to be self-determined, to make their own choices. So if, despite your concerns and encouragement, she refuses to see that she might have a problem and to seek treatment, ultimately know that she’s entitled to do that. Then the real work begins because you’ll have the task of being left to deal with your feelings of powerlessness to help your mom- and that’s really tough.

Good Luck,
Dr. Coakley

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