THE ELDERLY AND DEPRESSION

NOTE: I, along with my managing attorney, E. Nego Pile, of the Pile Law Firm, a law firm specializing in Elder/Estate Law in the Greater Philadelphia area, thought that this topic was important to address because of the potential danger of many seniors being misdiagnosed as suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease.  Attorney Pile recommends that before petitioning the Court for a guardianship action, make sure that you do your due diligence to ensure that your loved ones are not suffering from depression. Guardianships should be a last resort.

It is also important to note that depression can lead to self-neglect, which is one of the most pervasive forms of elder abuse. 

My mother recently lost her dear brother. She lost her mother 2 ½ years prior to that. She agonized over their deaths because she was caregiver to both her mother and brother.

I noticed that some of my family members felt that she should have mourned sufficiently and she should “go on with her life”.  She started exhibiting signs of social withdrawal, memory loss and she always seemed disoriented.  No one bothered to even consider that she was experiencing depression. Depression is an illness that affects many seniors. Unfortunately, this illness is more common in seniors that many of us may know.

According to the National Association of Mental Illness (NAMI), 6.5 million of the 35 million adults over the age of 65 suffer from depression. There seems to be, in many instances, attributed to loss of independence, acknowledging one’s mortality, disability and loss. The danger of depression is that many times it is misdiagnosed as dementia. This may be a result of the following characteristics:

  • memory loss
  • confusion
  • social withdrawal
  • loss of appetite
  • weight loss
  • complaining of pain
  • insomnia
  • irritability
  • delusions
  • hallucinations

The good news is that depression is treatable. Depression is a chronic disease. As Dr. Ken Duckworth of NAMI states “getting well is only the beginning of the challenge—the goal is staying well. For people experiencing their first episode of depression later in life, most experts would recommend treatment for six months to one year after acute treatment that achieves remission.”

My mother’s experience taught me a valuable lesson. Adult children need to understand the emotional and physical adjustments our parents are experiencing. This adjustment can be frightening and daunting. Imagine not knowing which of your children will treat you disrespectfully and become abusive. Consider the fear of one of your children stealing your money, selling your home or declaring you incompetent.

It is easier to dismiss our parents’ struggles and label them as “old and cranky” or just senile. The next time you become aggravated by your aging parents, grandparents and older family members, just remember how you want to be treated when you reach their age. Let’s hope many of us live to reach their ages!

As I always mention, please report all incidents to the proper authorities. You can also find information on the National Center on Elder Abuse’s website at http://www.ncea.aoa.gov.

Please feel free to leave your questions or comments.

Reference
National Association of Mental Illness. Depression. Retrieved from http://www.nami.org.