Overview of the Geriatric Depression Scale (GDS)

Content, Scoring, and Accuracy of the GDS

Depressed older woman

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The Geriatric Depression Scale (GDS) is a screening test originally developed by J.A. Yesavage and colleagues in 1982 that is used to identify symptoms of depression in older adults. The scale is a 30-item, self-report instrument that uses a "Yes/No" format. It can be used with healthy adults, medically ill adults, and those with mild to moderate cognitive impairments.

The GDS is frequently used in acute, long-term, and community settings, often part of a comprehensive geriatric assessment. 

While a depression diagnosis should not be given based on the result of the GDS alone, it is often included as part of a diagnostic assessment due to the scale's established reliability and validity.

So what does the Geriatric Depression Scale measure that sets it apart from depression screening instruments used in younger populations? While somatic symptoms such as weight loss, pessimism about the future, and sleep disturbances are common depressive symptoms among younger people, such symptoms are often also related to the aging process itself among older adults.

In order to screen for symptoms of depression rather than factors associated with aging, the GDS focuses specifically on psychiatric rather than somatic symptoms.

Available Forms of the Geriatric Depression Scale

The GDS is available in a long-form that consists of 30 questions, and a more commonly used short form that has 15 questions. There is also a five-item GDS that research has shown to be comparable to the 15-question form in terms of effectively identifying depression.

The GDS consists of questions that assess a person's level of enjoyment, interest, social interactions and more.

Questions on the Scale

Choose the best answer for how you have felt over the past week:

1. Are you basically satisfied with your life? YES / NO

2. Have you dropped many of your activities and interests? YES / NO

3. Do you feel that your life is empty? YES / NO

4. Do you often get bored? YES / NO

5. Are you in good spirits most of the time? YES / NO

6. Are you afraid that something bad is going to happen to you? YES / NO

7. Do you feel happy most of the time? YES / NO

8. Do you often feel helpless? YES / NO

9. Do you prefer to stay at home, rather than going out and doing new things? YES / NO

10. Do you feel you have more problems with memory than most? YES / NO

11. Do you think it is wonderful to be alive now? YES / NO

12. Do you feel pretty worthless the way you are now? YES / NO

13. Do you feel full of energy? YES / NO

14. Do you feel that your situation is hopeless? YES / NO

15. Do you think that most people are better off than you are? YES / NO

How the Geriatric Depression Scale Is Scored

A point is given for each answer that indicates depression. For example, in the above questions, one point would be given if the person answered "no" for the first question and "yes" for the second question. The GDS form usually has the answer that could indicate depression underlined or bolded, to indicate the responses for which a point is given.

For the short form above, a score of above five points suggests depression. An answer of "Yes" on questions 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 9, 10, 12, 14, and 15 or a "No" response to questions 1, 5, 7, 11, and 13 are indicative of depressive symptoms in an older adult.

A score of over five points indicates a need for follow-up evaluation, while a score over 10 almost always indicates depression.

On the full 30-question long-form, a score is considered normal if it's between 0–9; an indicator of mild depression is between 10–19, and a positive for severe depression is between 20–30. If you're using the five-item version, a score of two or more is indicative of depression.

Cost, Training, and Accuracy

Because the development of the scale was funded in part by the Federal government, the GDS is considered public domain and is free to use. In addition to being free, the GDS requires very little training to administer. In fact, the GDS can even be self-administered.

According to multiple research studies, both the long and the short form GDS are quite accurate at identifying depression in older people. As a result, the GDS has been translated into several different languages, several of which have been validated by research as being accurate in identifying depression.

Using the GDS for People With Dementia

The International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry published research that studied the effectiveness of the GDS when it came to assessing depression levels in people with dementia. It found that in addition to accurately identifying depression in people whose cognition was intact, the GDS could also accurately be used to screen for depression in people whose Mini-Mental State Exam (a questionnaire that is used to measure cognitive impairment) scores were at 15 or above.

Research has found that the GDS can be used in the early to middle stages of Alzheimer's with accuracy.

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2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Lach HW, Chang YP, Edwards D. Can older adults with dementia accurately report depression using brief forms? Reliability and validity of the Geriatric Depression Scale. J Gerontol Nurs. 2010;36(5):30-7. doi:10.3928/00989134-20100303-01

  2. Jongenelis K, Pot AM, Eisses AM, et al. Diagnostic accuracy of the original 30-item and shortened versions of the Geriatric Depression Scale in nursing home patients. Int J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2005;20(11):1067-74. doi:10.1002/gps.1398

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