Tue, Feb 02, 2016 - Page 5 News List

Forgetfulness may be sign of depression in elderly

By Lin Yen-tung and Jake Chung  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

People taking care of elderly people should not overlook symptoms that are usually attributed to old age, such as forgetfulness and constant complaints about body aches, as they might be indicative of depression, said Chen Yung-hsing (陳永興), former director of St Mary’s Hospital in Yilan County’s Luodong Township (羅東).

Chen said that his mother recently started showing signs of forgetfulness, was complaining about things and refused to go outdoors.

He said he thought his mother was showing symptoms of senility.

However, a medical check-up revealed that she was actually suffering from depression, Chen said.

After about a month of treatment, his mother showed great improvement in memory, Chen said.

His mother, who is 90 years old, is still fit and capable of taking care of herself, Chen said.

Depression in elderly people can be mistaken for senility, Chen said, adding that senility, aging and depression are three separate processes.

Senility is a pathological condition of the brain, while aging is the natural process of the human body in decline, Chen said. Of the three, depression in elderly people is perhaps the only condition that can be fully reversed, he said.

Depression in elderly people can be due to a history of depression or being diagnosed with a serious illness, such as cancer or long-term cardiovascular disease, said Chiu Pei-ning (邱姵寧), an attending physician at Guandu Hospital’s division of psychiatry.

A change in lifestyle after retirement could also be a contributing factor to depression, Chiu said.

Insomnia, body aches and pains, a tendency to complain about things and forgetfulness are all symptoms of depression in elderly people, Chiu said, adding that in severe cases, it could hamper the person’s social and daily life.

Doctors urged family members to approach elderly people who might be suffering from depression with empathy.

Elderly people should plan their post-retirement lives, maintain a healthy diet and get plenty of exercise, they said.

Citing a John Tung Foundation survey conducted in 2010, the hospital said that one out of 10 Taiwanese showed signs of depression, with a majority being 65 years old or older.

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