Mental health of our elders is a matter of grave concern now. Few decades back it wasn't so. But with rapid urbanization, high rate of unemployment, growing trend of nuclear family, things have changed radically. Many from our state – doctors, engineers, MBAs, and others – have left for other countries as they could not find a job; after initial reluctance they left for abroad leaving their old parents alone. I see huge houses, but wearing distressed silence and gloom. Most of them suffer from what was found in the West; empty nest syndrome. Although our society is in a denial mode but it's very much common now. Following are the common ailments that flourish in such a state of affairs.
Dementia: It often presents first with agitation, anxiety, depression. Dementia also presents with symptoms like forgetfulness ,impaired cognitive activities and aggression. There is no magical cure or complete cure for dementia, as it's progressive and nonreversible. Never the less consulting a psychiatrist or a qualified counselor can make life of a person with dementia lot more comfortable. Always check that the patient of dementia does his hearing and eye test on regular basis. Those lucky children who remain with patient of dementia must make sure he meets his old friends, visits places familiar to him often. Reiki therapy has a soothing effect on patients with dementia.
Depression. Major depression can develop in old age for the first time or be a recurrence of a major affective disorder. Along with depressed mood, physical symptoms like apathy, fatigue may dominate the clinical picture. In west highest suicide rate is among elderly males, with alcoholism. As stress and deaths of friends are so common among the elderly, adjustment disorder, depression and adjustment disorder are common.
Adjustment Disorders: These are common in old age and are due to the numerous stresses – loss, physical illness, retirement or living outside. Symptoms include anxiety, depression, agitation. Grief is common and may mimic a major depression but often has an obvious precipitant, is short lived with therapy. Alcohol, nicotine is also a common response to stress in the elderly and is frequently unrecognized.
How can we HELP: Be supportive, respectful, sympathetic and a good listener. Let them express, listen to them with patience and attention. While talking hold their hand, kiss it and become a human placebo. Encourage patients to express themselves – about guilt, loneliness – and unburden themselves.
Encourage self-esteem. Helping patients review their life can be highly beneficial. Reminiscence is adaptive coping behavior and helps promote self esteem. Encourage continued interests, friendships, socialization, activities and self support. Be a presence. Be available—-frequent, regular and always reachable by phone.
Biggest Donts: Never ask for a sleep inducing medicine to keep old people sedated and hence shrug off your responsibility, it has always proven to be harmful not only to your parents, but in most of cases your children steal that medicine and get addicted to it.
Lastly we all must remember how our old parents and relatives cared for us when we were kids, did they ever complain? How wonderful if someone living in a nuclear family visits his parents today, spends time with them, gifts them something…….
Author is trained in mental health ailments.