Depression is a medical condition with both physical and emotional symptoms, demonstrating high statistics in the elderly population. Differentiating geriatric depression from other medical conditions can be difficult, but it’s vital for seeking proper treatment. The geriatric depression scale is a helpful tool that can help doctors to diagnose depression in the elderly. Learn about how doctors diagnose clinical depression in elderly people, including using a geriatric depression score.

Depression Diagnosis in Elderly Populations

A depression diagnosis is less likely to be made in older adults, since it can easily be confused with other conditions. Elderly people are more likely to take medication for many conditions, including heart disease or high blood pressure. Some of these can cause mood changes that might support a depression diagnosis.

In addition, physical problems, such as thyroid problems, can lead to mood changes that can be mistaken for mental health problems, including depression. You should know that depression is not a normal part of aging, or a normal response to illness.

The Stigma of a Depression Diagnosis

Some individuals may find it difficult to report depression symptoms because of shame or fear. These individuals perceive a social stigma associated with a depression diagnosis. This is particularly true for older people, who are more likely to feel as though a depression diagnosis from a doctor will cause others to view them negatively.

In addition, they may feel that depression symptoms are their fault, or that depression is something that they should be able to work through themselves. Therefore, you’ll want to watch for depression symptoms in elders, and have a professional diagnose clinical depression, if necessary.

The Geriatric Depression Scale

Dr. Jerome Yesavage of Stanford University created the geriatric depression scale (GDS) in order to diagnose clinical depression in elderly individuals. Both a long form and a short form are available, and both include a series of yes/no questions designed to identify risk factors that help in diagnosing depression. The GDS has been translated into numerous languages, so it can be used with a wide variety of individuals from different backgrounds.

The geriatric depression score derived from the GDS can help ascertain the presence of depression. Questions address different aspects of mood and behavior to determine where you fall on the geriatric depression scale. If you complete the short form, your geriatric depression score can be interpreted as follows:

  • 0 to 4: Normal
  • 5 to 8: Mildly depressed
  • 9 to 11: Moderately depressed
  • 12 to 15: Severely depressed.

In addition to your geriatric depression score, the following may also be used to diagnose clinical depression:

  • A doctor interview
  • A physical exam
  • Reports of family or caregivers.


Kurlowicz, L., et al. (2007). The geriatric depression scale (GDS). Retrieved May 18, 2010, from the Hartford Institute for Geriatric Nursing website:

National Alliance on Mental Illness Staff. (n.d.). Depression in older persons fact sheet. Retrieved May 18, 2010, from the National Alliance on Mental Illness website:

Nippoldt, T. (2008). Thyroid disease: Can it affect a personÕs mood? Retrieved May 18, 2010, from the Mayo Clinic website:

Stanford University Staff. (n.d.). Geriatric depression scale. Retrieved May 18, 2010, from the Stanford University website:

 Posted on : June 26, 2014