I’d like to thank one of our readers, Karen Wyard, for sending a very informative email regarding mental health, reminding us that May is designated as Mental Health Awareness Month.

She works in the new senior behavioral health program at St Helena Hospital.

Karen tells us: “The new program has a dedicated 13-bed unit that is available for seniors (65 and over) with physician-supervised comprehensive and quality psychiatric treatment in an in-patient setting, which includes counseling, art, music and movement therapy, coping skills, healthy food and medication adjustments as needed in an atmosphere of acceptance and caring. It is for seniors who have failed outpatient treatments and may be at immediate risk to harm themselves or others, or acutely depressed and dysfunctional in activities of daily living.”

Karen goes on to say: “This program is designed to get patients stabilized quickly (within a week or two) and evaluated to return to an appropriate living situation. Obviously, I’d like everyone’s loved ones to avoid this (although we’re here if anyone needs us) and that’s why I’m hoping our seniors will read this and be proactive about their mental health needs.”

Thank you, Karen. I’m sure we all agree that we’d like to stay out of the new 13-bed unit, but also happy to hear that there are accommodation available at the St. Helena Hospital, if needed.

Karen also has a bit of good news for us: “While depression is a common problem among older or senior adults it is definitely not a normal part of aging. Everyone feels down or sad sometimes, but these feelings usually pass after a few days.

“When you have depression, you have trouble with daily life for weeks or months at a time. Depression affects 6 million of the more than 40 million Americans over the age of 65. Of course, the changes that often come in later life —- retirement, the death of loved ones, increased isolation, and medical problems can lead to depression. And it can be overlooked because for some older adults who have depression, sadness is not their main symptom. They may have other less obvious symptoms of depression or they are not willing to talk about their feelings. But if left untreated, depression can lead to an overall deterioration of health —- not to mention, suicide. So just how do we recognize depression in ourselves, friends and loved ones?”

The following are some signs and symptoms of depression in older adults that Karen shared with us. Perhaps, by knowing these signs, we might recognize when a friend or family member might be headed into depression.

— General slowing down or restlessness

— Neglect of responsibilities and self-care

— Withdrawing from family and friends

— Decline in day-to-day ability to function, being confused, worried or agitated

— Difficulty getting motivated in the morning

— Behaving out of character

— Denial of depressive feelings as a defense mechanism

— Indecisiveness

— Loss of self-esteem

— Persistent suicidal thoughts, fixation on death

— Negative comments like “I’m a failure” “It’s my fault” “Life is not worth living”

— Perceived change of status within the family

— Moodiness or irritability, which may present as angry or aggressive

— Sadness, hopelessness, helplessness or emptiness

— Feeling overwhelmed

Physical symptoms include:

— Sleeping more or less than usual

— Feeling tired all the time

— Slowed movement

— Memory problems

— Unexplained headaches, backache, pain or similar complaints

— Digestive upsets, nausea, changes in bowel habits

— Agitation, hand wringing, pacing

— Loss or change in appetite

— Significant weight loss (or gain)

Of course, everyone experiences some of these symptoms from time to time and it may not necessarily mean that the person is depressed. Similarly, not every person who is experiencing depression will have all of these symptoms. So someone who claims to not feel sad, may complain, instead, of low motivation, a lack of energy, or physical problems. In fact, physical problems such as unexplained or aggravated aches and pains, arthritis pain and worsening headaches are often the predominant symptom of depression in the elderly.

But to be depressed, as I mentioned earlier, is not a normal part of aging. So what can we do about this? Good news. There are many things we can do to overcome these symptoms, but due to length, we’ll have to make this a ‘two-parter’, where we will talk about the positives of what we can do, or advise our friend or family member to do. We’ll say goodbye to Karen, with our thanks, until we visit again.

I love hearing from you. Please drop me a line at bettyrrhodes@sbcglobal.net.

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