February 3, 2014

Elderly seeking more suicide counselling

Connie Duffy reporter

LATE-life depression is a very realcondition and many elderly peopleare now beginning to seek help todeal with it. One of Donegal's lead-ing suicide counselling serviceshas just revealed that numbers seeking their help are on the in-crease – as much as 40% up on last year.

According to Fr James Sweeneyfrom the counseling service atTabor House, Drimark, just outsideDonegal Town, depression in eld-erly people often goes untreatedbecause many people think thatit is a normal part of aging and anatural reaction to chronic illness,loss and social transition.

"Elderly people do face notewor-thy challenges through loss, medi-cal vulnerability and mortality. It can have serious repercussions,increasing mortality and disability,higher health care utilization and longer hospital stays," he said The Bruckless PP, who has been to the forefront of providing inde-pendent services in drug and alco-hol addiction for almost 20 yearsnow said for the elderly population depression can come in different sizes and shapes.

"Many elderly people and theirfamilies don't recognise the symp-toms of depression, aren't awarethat it is a medical illness and don'tknow how it is treated. Others maymistake the symptoms of depres-sion as signs of Dementia, Alzhe-imer's Disease, Arthritis, Cancer,Heart disease, Parkinson's, Strokeor Thyroid disorders.

"We have more elderly people presenting themselves for help. Upto this we would have dealt witha younger or more middle aged group. I myself have never had todeal with as many elderly peoplebefore. It's a remarkable increase,I'd say by anything up to 40%." Fr Sweeney could not say if thephenomenon was recession re-lated, but was glad they had thestrength and confidence to comeforward and seek help.

"This is something that came tomy attention between six months to a year ago. There's always the anxieties associated with the costof living and health issues but seeing it coming out now like this isnew. I welcome the fact the elderlyare coming forward to talk aboutit." Although there is no single, definitive answer to the question of cause, many factors – psychologi-cal, biological, environmental and genetic – likely contribute to thedevelopment of depression. While some people become depressed for no easily identified reason,depression tends to run in families and the vulnerability is often passed from parents to children.

"Perhaps as people get older dif-ferent things hit them. Just becausethe years go by doesn't mean theyforget the ones they have lost,"said Fr Sweeney.

It should also be noted that depression can be a side effect of some medications commonly prescribed to older persons, such as medications to treat hypertension.

Depression in the elderly population can also be complicated andcompounded by dependence onsubstances such as alcohol, which acts as a depressant.

Conditions such as heart attack,stroke, hip fracture or macular degeneration and procedures suchas bypass surgery are known to be associated with the development of depression. In general, depression should be assessed as a possibility if recovery from medical procedure is delayed, treatmentsare refused or problems with dis-charge are encountered.

Fr Sweeney pointed out peoplecould do their own bit to help by keeping an eye on elderly neighbours in 'neighbourhood watch type scenario, going in for a chat now and again or even making apoint of visiting them in hospitals or nursing homes – it would be a good New Year's Resolution! "From my experience when people get a chance to talk to peoplelike ourselves at Tabor House it helps lift the burden. We will keep encouraging elderly people to getin touch, I'm glad that they do. it'simportant to get the message outthere that there is help when you are feeling down. Age doesn't matter, everyone is still important no matter what.

You can contact Fr Sweeney at Tabor House on (087) 2879707.