Monday, February 2, 2009

depression in caregivers and seniors

What do I have to worry about? I am retired, albeit early and with a $ penalty, but my days are my own. I keep busy with volunteer activities and help out with a couple of community endeavours. I regularly keep in electronic contact with my children (phone, Wii, Skype, e-mail) and any combination of the aforementioned!

With all of these things going on, it is still easy for a caregiver or senior to gradually sink into depression. No longer are they needed for parenting issues and advice. Sometimes, some say 30% of us middle-agers are caring for family members. Many find they are burdened with caregiving issues in the sandwich generation. For some the familiar rituals of seasonal celebrations must go by the wayside, for others they are grateful to let some things go.

If stress persists, there are chemical changes in the body. I could see this happening in me as I fought for Dad in LTC. These changes are not restricted to the body; they impact one’s life psychologically and socially. In the research I did for my psychobiology course, I found that there were many signs of depression:

• Lack of interest in formerly pleasurable activities
• A change in eating patterns
• Changes in sleep patterns
• Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
• Energy level decrease
• Problems making decisions
• Thoughts of suicide

What we need is a balance of physical and cognitive activities (see this post for more information), social opportunities, family and friends around us. We need professionals who can recognize the signs of depression and treat them early, avoiding, as much as possible, unnecessary chemotherapy.

The Canadian Government offer seminars. One of them is an information package on depression.

On another site, sort of a Dear Abby for caregivers, a nurse offers some valuable insights. ary Fridley, RN, says, "Depression in caregivers is very common. Studies have shown that it affects nearly 50% of them. There are more than 40 million caregivers in America. Contrary to general belief, 80% of caregiving is done by families in the community not in institutions. Most are woman age 50 or over and at least half of them are employed."

We face huge emotional, financial and sociological implications as caregivers of spouses or aging parents. Vance, et al., said, "By providing emotionally engaging, stimulating, and, most of all, meaningful activities for adults with AD, agitation and accompanying behavioral problems may be abated, improving quality of life for patients and their caregivers."
This is so true, as long as barriers such as transportation, and ill-heath do not get in the way.

A study from Australia cites "a lack of continuity of care, multiple co-morbidities, reluctance by older people to discuss depression, negative attitudes among carers, as well as a lack of skills all contributed to a failure to detect and treat depression. (see Barriers to Care for Depressed Older People: Perceptions of Aged Care among Medical Professionals, 2009)

Of course, such findings have implications for training programs at all levels of the health care system. Prevention is such an important tool. Lack of diagnosis is a wrench in the system that negates all of the knowledge and research available to us.

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