Elderly Depression - the silent epidemic
Dr Richard Schweizer from One Door Mental Health writes on depression amongst the elderly.
There is a silent epidemic of depression in the aged population of Australia.
In 2015 the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare estimated that 52% of all aged care residents on 30 June 2012 had mild, moderate or major symptoms of depression. That is just over half. And this problem will only grow as Australia’s population ages.
The elderly with depression may be suffering in silence. Cut off from family and friends, they may have no-one to turn to. Sometimes it may be hard to diagnose depression in the elderly. Symptoms of depression such as disruption of sleeping, memory or concentration may be confused with symptoms of dementia. Or grieving over lost family and friends. Or simply part of aging.
There are a number of reasons for depression to be common in the elderly. They may be experiencing social isolation at home or in aged care facilities. They may be feeling the indignity of an inability to work and live and socialise as they once did, or the personal sense of shame of being dependent on other people for their self-care. They may be feeling a loss of direction without employment or children to raise. They may be in grief for a lost loved one or friend. They may be in chronic pain. They may be suffering the early onset of dementia or other significant illnesses of aging, such as heart disease, cancer or Parkinson’s disease. They may have a pre-existing mental health condition which is exacerbated by their circumstances. Or they may be unwilling to undergo the shame of disclosing a mental illness.
So what may we do about this problem?
The first step must be to reconnect with aged people. This means families keeping in contact with their parents or parent’s parents. Visiting their loved ones. Reconnection also means engagement in social circles. The antidote to social isolation is social inclusion. Young people must be encouraged to interact with their older relations, and elderly people living alone at home should be offered opportunities to relate with other people in social settings.
Secondly, we must address the quality of care in many aged homes and nursing homes. The status quo is, all too often, insufficient. People living towards the end of their lives deserve to live with comfort and independence and dignity. They need to be both cared for and respected.
Third, we must ensure that all the public support systems encountered by the aged – from health and welfare, to disability services, to housing assistance – are integrated well with each other and are functioning to the best of their ability and serving their clients effectively. It is true that many programs for the elderly already exist, but hospital and psychologist and GP services may be encouraged to develop new programs to keep in contact with and engage aged patients.
With changes like these in place, our growing aged population will hopefully be able to live their lives to the full, with dignity and joy.