As your loved ones age, watch for signs that could indicate the onset of depression, dementia or other emotional and mental problems.
You can recognize a problem by any change from the person’s previous level of functioning in activities of daily living. Then it is up to you to intervene and speak with your elderly loved one. The signs include:
• Difficulty concentrating, making routine decisions and remembering details.
• Lack of interest or pleasure in life, such as not wanting to see friends or no longer playing golf.
• Changes in appetite or sleep patterns, with decreased energy level. Evidence of these could be rapid weight loss and sleeping late or waking up early.
Depression more than just a bad day
A diagnosis of depression depends on the duration and severity of the symptoms. A person might feel sad for a couple of days, but to qualify as depression those feelings must continue for at least two weeks. At that point, the loved one needs to see his or her primary care physician or a psychiatrist.
Even if the visits are only occasional, the adult child of a senior can notice these signs of depression:
• Showing little change in reaction or emotion, known as a “flat effect.”
• Not smiling.
• Avoiding eye contact.
• Poor grooming.
• Poor housekeeping, such as leaving the paper in the driveway or dishes piled in the sink.
• Leaving the blinds closed and remaining isolated.
Time for intervention
Family and friends will be most likely to notice these signs. If they appear and continue, a family member should intervene and ask the senior whether he or she wants to talk with someone about those feelings. This might mean taking the first step and making an appointment for the senior.
Dementia linked with depression
A serious loss of memory, known as dementia, can go hand in hand with depression. To qualify as dementia, a senior must exhibit many signs, not just losing keys or forgetting names occasionally.
Seventy percent of dementia cases result from Alzheimer’s disease. With vascular dementia, a stroke or series of strokes causes a chronic, reduced blood flow to the brain. Often, the strokes are so small that you might not notice any symptoms. Dementia also is associated with Parkinson’s disease.
Medication can help ease the depression associated with dementia. By relieving depression, the patient is more likely to maintain an interest in eating and continuing other activities of daily living. Keeping the mind active and interested in life helps the patient extend his or her life.
Some serious warning signs of dementia include:
• Driving on the wrong side of road.
• Leaving the stove on.
• Wandering away.
• Any other activities that put the patient in danger.
Help is available
Fortunately, psychiatric care for our aging population has expanded and now is more available here in northern Nevada. For example, Senior Bridges at Northern Nevada Medical treats the mental and the physical health of adults age 50 and older. Seniors receive care in a 24-bed, secure inpatient floor at Northern Nevada Medical Center and at a separate, outpatient facility.
Senior Bridges is designed for short-term care to stabilize and resolve immediate psychological problems. The intensive outpatient program provides more thorough treatment than traditional outpatient care. The experienced treatment team includes physicians, registered nurses, licensed clinical social workers, physical therapists and occupational, speech and recreational therapists.
A patient may refer him- or herself or be referred by a physician, family member, friend, emergency department, nursing home or assisted living facility.
Senior Bridges at Northern Nevada Medical Center treats both the mental and physical health of adults 50 and older. If you see a senior loved one struggling with emotional or mental obstacles, call Senior Bridges at 356-4071.
Dwarak Vuppalapati is the Northern Nevada Medical Center’s Medical director for both the inpatient Senior Bridges and Medical Detoxification programs at the hospital, located at 2375 E. Prater Way in Sparks. Dr. Vuppalapati graduated from medical school in India and completed his residency at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. His fellowship training was completed at Yale University in various subspecialties, which included psychosomatics and addiction medicine. His post-doctoral fellowship training includes geriatrics and neuropsychiatry. Dr. Vuppalapati was an assistant clinical professor in Yale’s Department of Psychiatry. Dr. Vuppalapati is on the faculty for the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Nevada, Reno.