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Geriatric Depression Scale for Seniors: What You Need to Know

Depression among seniors is very common. Major life transitions, loss of loved ones, and chronic health issues can all contribute to the mood disorder, so older adults are especially vulnerable. It doesn’t have to be a permanent struggle, though. If you notice the signs and seek diagnosis and treatment, depression is usually manageable.
 
Unfortunately, depression is often overlooked in over adults. Friends and relatives may think that a change in mood or behavior is due to cognitive decline, or they might believe that it’s normal for seniors to feel lonely or hopeless. This isn’t the case, though. Just like younger adults, older adults can and should feel happy, loved, and motivated.
 
Often times, recognizing the signs of depression in seniors is the most important step toward wellness. If you or a loved one is aging, you should always be watchful for symptoms of mental health disorders. Never assume that an emotional or behavioral change is expected or unavoidable. Instead, learn about the symptoms of depression and other mental health conditions, and take these symptoms seriously when you notice them.
 
One excellent resource for identifying depression in older adults is the geriatric depression scale, or the GDS. The GDS is a set of questions designed to highlight the most common symptoms and behaviors associated with depression. Unless you’re a trained mental health professional, it can be hard to notice some of the subtle signs of a mental disorder. The GDS, however, is straightforward to use and is accessible to anyone.
 

What Is the Geriatric Depression Scale?

 
The geriatric depression scale was developed in 1982 to identify the signs and symptoms of depression in seniors. It consists of a set of “yes” or “no” questions regarding the senior’s mood, enjoyment, interest, and social interaction.
 
Here are some of the questions that are included in the GDS:
 
• Are you basically satisfied with your life?
• Have you dropped many of your activities and interests?
• Do you often feel helpless?
• Do you feel full of energy?
• Do you think it is wonderful to be alive now?
• Do you think that most people are better off than you are?
 
There are two versions of the GDS: a short form questionnaire and a long form questionnaire. The geriatric depression scale short form is more commonly used, and it contains 15 questions. The geriatric depression scale long form contains 30 questions.
 
Studies suggest that the short form and long form versions of the GDS are similarly effective in identifying depression. The short form GDS may be easier to use with people who are in cognitive decline or whose mental health symptoms make it hard to stay focused.
 

How the GDS Is Scored

 
With some of the questions on the GDS, a “yes” answer may indicate a symptom of depression. With others, a “no” answer may be cause for concern. On the form, you’ll see a scoring guideline that tells you which “yes” answers will receive one point and which “no” answers will receive one point.
 
On the short form questionnaire, a score of 5 points or more indicates that the individual may have depression. A score of 10 or more almost always suggests clinical depression. On the long form questionnaire, a score between 10 and 19 indicates mild depressive symptoms, and a score of 20 to 30 indicates severe depressive symptoms.
 

How You Can Use the Geriatric Depression Scale

 
Healthcare professionals often us the GDS with older patients to see if they should be concerned about the possibility of an individual having depression. It isn’t used to officially diagnose depression, but it may serve as the first step toward a diagnosis.
 
Because the GDS uses “yes” or “no” questions, it’s also fairly easy for anyone to administer. Some of the questions may be tough to answer, but they don’t require an in-depth discussion or analysis. The geriatric assessment was designed to be accessible to anyone, so you don’t need special training or education to administer the questionnaire. You could ask the questions to a friend or loved one and tally up the score, or you could even take the GDS yourself.
 
If you plan to administer the GDS to a loved one, make sure you speak with them about it in a quiet and comfortable environment. You don’t want them to feel pressured to speak about their mental health as this might cause them to be untruthful about their symptoms. Some of the questions may be upsetting to address, so keep empathy and compassion at the center of the conversation.
 

GDS and Dementia

 
One of the biggest concerns for diagnosing and treating mental health in older adults is whether or not cognitive decline will play a role. Dementia can make it difficult for seniors to interpret questions, communicate their answers, and stay focused on one topic of conversation.
 
Fortunately, the short form GDS is accurate and effective for seniors with dementia. The “yes” or “no” question format makes it easy for older adults in cognitive decline to express their answers, and because each question is separate, you can take breaks if needed. Dementia can contribute to loneliness, depression, and anxiety, so the GDS may be especially valuable for adults with cognitive decline.
 

What to Do About a High Score

 
If you or your loved one scores 5 or higher on the short form or 10 or higher on the long form, there’s a strong possibility of clinical depression. Even if your loved one doesn’t meet the official diagnostic criteria for depression, scoring high on the GDS is a sign that they may be struggling mentally or emotionally. At this point, it’s wise to seek help from a professional.
 
The GDS can help you identify depression, but it doesn’t officially diagnose or treat the disorder. Now, it’s important get yourself or your relative the support and care needed. Because depression causes feelings of helplessness and loss of motivation, it can be very difficult for the individual to arrange their own treatment. You can support an aging loved one by helping them research therapists in their area and arranging transportation to the appointments.
 
Recognizing depression in yourself or an older loved one is the first step toward seeking help and feeling better. The geriatric depression scale is an easy and accessible way for you to check in about mental health. You can find the questionnaire online for free, and you can score it on your own. If the GDS score gives you cause for concern, it may be time to reach out to a mental health professional for support.
 
Blue Moon Senior Counseling offers therapy for depression and other mental health disorders. Our counselors specialize in working with older adults, so they understand the symptoms, causes, and risk factors for depression in seniors. Contact us today to connect with a therapist in your area.

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