By Emsie Martin
One’s old age should be a time for contemplation and relaxation, or even a time to plough back and share your life experiences with others. Unfortunately, more and more senior citizens tend to succumb to loneliness and depression in their later years. This is partly due to the fact that family members do not recognise the signs of depression and bring them to a doctor’s attention, or because family members are absent, or because medical staff fail to notice the problem.
Depression is the most common illness and also the leading cause of suicide among the elderly. As many as 90% of elderly people over the age of 65 neglect to seek help because they do not consider it to be a disease of their time.
Depression among the elderly is more difficult to diagnose. Sometimes the situation is complicated because there are also other underlying diseases that have the same symptoms as depression, for example lack of sleep, weight loss, tiredness and other physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches, stomach pain, back pain and chest pain. In some cases, confusion and memory loss, which are also associated with depression, can be mistaken for senility or Alzheimer’s disease.
Many elderly people focus on their physical ailments rather than their feelings of sadness, loneliness or anxiety, and health care professionals can easily consider this to be the norm among elderly people. The elderly often also do not realise that they are actually suffering from depression. Many feel no one needs them anymore, and they also feel that they have no control over their own destiny. Concerns about accommodation, finances, health needs and absence of family members all contribute to depression.
Dr Biccard, a general practitioner and psychologist in Gauteng, believe it is important to do a thorough examination and to take the medical history of an elderly patient into account before deciding on treatment. It is also important to make sure the depression is not a side effect of other medications.
Depression should not be part of growing old. Health care professionals and family members should be on the lookout for signs of depression in older people.
THERE IS HELP
Psychotherapy with a psychologist, social worker or counsellor gives people the skills to cope with their illness and the stress caused by it. Support groups are a great way to get support and advice from people suffering from a similar problem. They know how the elderly person feels because they have felt the same way. Support groups are organised, and patients regard them as a safe place where they can share their experiences and get help. Call the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) on 0800 20 51 21 for contacts in your area.
South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag)
Sadag Mental Health Line – 011 234 4837
Akeso Psychiatric Reaction Unit (24 hours) – 0861 435 787
Cipla WhatsApp Chat Line – 076 882 2775
Die A-Z van berading – Gary R Collins