The John Tung Foundation yesterday said that many elderly people suffering depression are often neglected, with the symptoms being put down to being common effects of aging, and that based on related studies clinical visit rates of elderly people are relatively low compared with the prevalence of depression.
The foundation’s chief executive officer Yau Sea-wain (姚思遠) said that according to a survey the foundation conducted in 2010, about 11.8 percent of elderly people have experienced depression, while statistics from the WHO last year estimate that the overall prevalence of depression is about 5 percent.
“Fatigue, memory loss and physical discomfort are the three major warning signs of depression in the elderly,” Taiwanese Society of Geriatric Psychiatry standing director Huang Chung-cheng (黃宗正) said.
The symptoms are manifested through physical ailments, such as becoming tired easily or complaining about pain in different parts of the body.
Saint Mary’s Hospital Luodong superintendent Chen Yung-hsing (陳永興) said that “family members often mistake depression in elderly people for merely physical deterioration or the effects of aging,” because elderly people often display symptoms common to both depression and dementia at the same time.
Huang said that a conservative estimate based on research results showed that the prevalence of depression in elderly people could be about 12 percent, accounting for 310,000 people in Taiwan.
However, Chen said the clinical visit rate for depression among elderly people at Saint Mary’s Hospital Luodong only accounted for 1.3 percent of total clinical visits for depression, indicating that many people have still not received the care and treatment they need.
As symptoms of depression often occur when the seasons change, people should pay attention to elderly family members during the forthcoming Lunar New Year holiday, because they may feel especially lonely at home when other family members get together for outings, Chen said.
Huang suggested that family members spend more time listening to how elderly people feel, and seek medical assistance when needed.
“Caregivers often carry heavy physical and mental burdens from taking care of elderly people with depression, and may also show symptoms of fatigue, such as crying or other displays of emotion,” Huang said.
He said caregivers should pay attention to their own wellbeing and work on reducing their stress levels.