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Solitary Confinement -- for Life

Sixty-five year old Arthur Jones served a self-imposed life sentence - in his own home.

Arthur lived in a high crime neighborhood, so he built iron cages around his outside doors and installed bars on all the windows. No one could find it easy to break in to Arthur's house!

I met Arthur a few years ago, although you would hardly call our interaction meeting. When I arrived to deliver his meal, as part of the Meals-on-Wheels program, Arthur barely cracked open his front door even though his cage clearly protected him. He refused to open the cage door at all, so, to give him his meal, I had to angle the box through the bars. Without doubt, this maneuver scrambled the hot contents of his boxed meal, but Arthur would have it no other way. He clearly feared me, a 100-pound woman, and everyone else.

I wish I could say that Arthur's family came to his rescue, finding for him the medical and emotional treatment he needed. I cannot. Arthur's depression and paranoia compounded relentlessly, killing him at far too young an age.

Many elders live like Arthur, holed up in their own homes, barricaded against the world. Who cares? Family and friends must care, and they must assume the primary responsibility, acting before their elder's condition rivals that of Arthur. We cannot shift this burden to our government. We cannot wish it away. Those among us lucky enough to have elders in our lives must shoulder the responsibility of seeing that they do not succumb to depression.

At this holiday season, many elders experience transitory depression, as celebrations bring memories of friends and loved ones who have died. Decreased hours of sunshine may add to their depressed feelings. How do you know if your elder suffers from serious depression? And, if you suspect depression, what you should do? Here are a few tips.

What signs should lead you to suspect serious depression?

  • Lethargy and or refusal to get out of bed;

  • Changes in Sleep Patterns, such as sleeping all morning

  • Unusual Complaints

  • Memory loss and loss of ability to concentrate

  • Frequent sighs or weeping if unusual for the sufferer

  • Feeling fear and loneliness;

  • Thoughts of death

  • Refusal to eat

  • Refusal to take prescribed medications

  • Thoughts or talk of suicide (remember, the notion that suicides do not signal their plans is a myth!)

  • Significant changes in personality

  • Irritability

What Can You Do?

A few simple steps may improve their condition rapidly:

  • Call more often than usual.

  • Take your elder for outings away from the house.

  • Schedule a medical appointment to confirm or deny your suspicions, and be the one to take your elder to that appointment. Depression often accompanies the early stages of Alzheimer's disease and other dementias.

  • Check bottles to be certain that your elder is actually taking prescribed medications at the recommended dosages. Too many or too few pills in the bottle can warn you of problems. If you find evidence that medications are not taken as prescribed, gently probe to see if you can learn why.

  • Include the elder in parties and holiday festivities, but keep the duration of their participation at a level they can handle comfortably.

  • Drop in more often than usual on homebound elders.

You don't have to be a doctor or social worker to recognize the signs of depression. Take action now to protect those who protected you.

About The Author

Phyllis Staff, Ph.D. - Phyllis Staff is an experimental psychologist and the CEO of The Best Is Yet.Net, an internet company that helps seniors and caregivers find trustworthy residential care. She is the author of How to Find Great Senior Housing: A Roadmap for Elders and Those Who Love Them. She is also the daughter of a victim of Alzheimer's disease. Visit the author's web site at http://www.thebestisyet.net

pando19@yahoo.com

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