Depression in disguise

Meet Ray, a gentle 81-year-old man who has been a pillar of his community all his life. He raised a loving family, worked hard, went to church, volunteered his time and never had a harsh word for anyone. Ray has not been feeling himself since his wife died three years ago. At first Ray seemed to accept what had happened but now friends and family say he doesn't answer the phone, never goes out and when visitors come he's short to the point of being unfriendly.

Last week he had a run-in with a policeman over a minor traffic violation, became agitated and drove away. His license was revoked for a while and now every time he sees an officer he obsesses and relives the incident, exclaiming ''don't they have anything better to do than to pick on the elderly?''

Other things seem to be going wrong as well. The power company is threatening to turn the lights off; he's behind in his other bills as well; his clothes are dirty and disheveled and his once immaculate apartment is a shambles. None of this seems to bother Ray and he tells his children to mind their own business.

Ray takes an anti-inflammatory medication to control his painful hip from a fracture several years earlier and is finally forced to see his doctor for a refill. Ray's children are relieved he's going to see the doctor; the doctor is relieved as well; he's tiring of all the calls from Ray's family.

The family fears Ray may be suffering from Alzheimer's or some other kind of senile dementia. A battery of tests reveals nothing conclusive; the diagnosis: depression. The family is relieved but shocked. The good news, Ray seems much more himself with treatment.

Millions of elderly Americans just like Ray suffer from this hidden form of depression that manifests as agitation, aggression and withdrawal. The cause can stem from the loss of a loved one but is more commonly caused from all the small things, that when put together, give this disturbing picture of altered physical and mental function.

Here are some ideas to help your elderly loved one stay healthy and balanced:

The need for touch never stops regardless of age. Touch deprivation can lead to suppressed immunity, loss of appetite, loss of interest in life and depression. Professional or amateur massage will fill that need for touch.

The need for food changes and lessens: too many times the elderly will settle for foods that are less than nourishing in favor of convenience. You can't always get them to change; therefore a high quality B vitamin is vital. B12 vitamin has actually been shown to sharpen mental function and reduce the risk of Alzheimer's.

Outside social contacts are vital. Something they enjoy whether it's Bingo, church or volunteer work. Most organizations provide transportation and it should not be an issue even if they don't drive.

Uncorrected loss of sensory perceptions can make an elderly person feel isolated and unnecessarily alone. Hearing aids and eyeglasses are a must.

Regular visits to the family doctor can help avert problems.

Regular physical activity helps tone the body and keeps the mind sharp.

If you find your elderly loved one's behavior has changed, become agitated or less than appropriate they may be suffering from depression. This time it's best to start with a visit to the physician.

Till next time, Rebecca

To find out more about Rebecca Huber and read other columns visit

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online February 27, 2002

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