Demystifying Depression in Older Adults

The Bottom Line

Depression is not a normal part of aging. It is important to know that:

  • Signs and symptoms of depression vary from person to person.
  • Depression can be treated.
  • If you are depressed, seek support from family and friends.
  • A healthy lifestyle and hope can help.

While not a normal part of aging, up to 20% of older adults have symptoms of depression. These rates increase to 40% for those in hospital or living in long-term care. In this webinar recording, psychiatrists Dr. Sophiya Benjamin and Dr. Anthony Levinson discuss late-life depression, its causes and symptoms, how it is assessed and diagnosed, as well as treatment and management strategies, including preventative measures and helpful resources.



Learn the answers to the following questions:

  • 1:18 What is depression?
  • 5:39 What causes depression?
  • 7:34 What are some of the risk factors for older adults?
  • 8:44 How is depression assessed and diagnosed?
  • 13:02 If not depression, what else could it be?
  • 15:51 What are common misconceptions about depression in older adults?
  • 17:27 How is depression treated?
  • 39:16 What resources and supports are available?
  • 46:42 Can one heal completely from depression?
  • 47:00 When should depression be treated by a specialist?
  • 47:53 Why do I need a medication? Shouldn’t I just be able to cope?
  • 49:42 Are people who had bouts of depression in their younger years more likely to be depressed in old age?
  • 50:35 How can one encourage an older adult who refuses to seek help?
  • 52:18 How is seasonal affective disorder treated?
  • 53:37 Can certain medications lead to or increase the risk of depression?
  • 57:10 How do you handle important life transitions to avoid becoming depressed?
  • 1:00:00 Is there a relationship between depression and dementia?
  • 1:02:22 Are psychedelics beneficial for treating depression?
  • 1:04:39 Will using cannabis help or worsen depression?
  • 1:07:44 If you are photosensitive, can you use light therapies to treat depression?
  • 1:08:04 If you have been on an antidepressant for many years, will it continue to be effective as you age?
  • 1:09:25 What do you do if you don’t have access to a primary care provider?


Download a handout with helpful resources related to depression.

Download a transcript of this webinar presentation.

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  1. American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, Text Revision (DSM-5-TR). March 2022.
  2. Canadian Coalition for Seniors’ Mental Health (CCSMH). Canadian Guidelines on Prevention, Assessment and Treatment of Depression Among Older Adults. 2021 Guideline Update.
  3. Health Quality Ontario. Quality Standard. Major Depression: Care for Adults and Adolescents. 2016.
  4. Jonsson U, Bertilsson G, Allard P, Gyllensvärd H, Söderlund A, Tham A, et al. (2016) Psychological Treatment of Depression in People Aged 65 Years and Over: A Systematic Review of Efficacy, Safety, and Cost-Effectiveness. PLoS ONE 11(8) 
  5. Kennedy S et al. Canadian Network for Mood and Anxiety Treatments (CANMAT) 2016 clinical guidelines for the management of adults with major depressive disorder. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 2016.
  6. Köhler-Forsberg O, Stiglbauer V, Brasanac J, et al. Efficacy and Safety of Antidepressants in Patients With Comorbid Depression and Medical Diseases: An Umbrella Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. JAMA Psychiatry. 2023 Dec 1;80(12):1196-1207. doi: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2023.2983. PMID: 37672261; PMCID: PMC10483387.
  7. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. (2022). Depression in adults: treatment and management [NICE Guideline No. 222].
  8. Parikh, S.V., Kcomt, A., Fonseka, T.M., Pong, J.T. (Eds). 2018. THE CHOICE–D PATIENT AND FAMILY GUIDE TO DEPRESSION TREATMENT. Toronto, Mood Disorders Association of Ontario.

DISCLAIMER: These summaries are provided for informational purposes only. They are not a substitute for advice from your own health care professional. The summaries may be reproduced for not-for-profit educational purposes only. Any other uses must be approved by the McMaster Optimal Aging Portal (

Many of our Blog Posts were written before the COVID-19 pandemic and thus do not necessarily reflect the latest public health recommendations. While the content of new and old blogs identify activities that support optimal aging, it is important to defer to the most current public health recommendations. Some of the activities suggested within these blogs may need to be modified or avoided altogether to comply with changing public health recommendations. To view the latest updates from the Public Health Agency of Canada, please visit their website.