Adrian Chiles is right that we don’t prioritise depression in older people (Let’s recognise that older people get depressed, too – and get them the help they need, 8 July). Over the years, I’ve worked a lot with people with dementia in care homes. Overwhelmingly, I would say that for most of them, depression caused by a confusing and unfamiliar world, loneliness, and a lack of staff to give them free caring attention, was much more of an issue than their dementia.
Yet it was their dementia that was held responsible for the manifested negative reactions to this situation – shouting, challenging and seemingly irrational behaviour, or becoming withdrawn and tearful.
If this behaviour – a clue to their depression and agitation – is given the time to be understood, then it is often able to be addressed. This needs adequate staffing and care, not the ignorance which thinks it acceptable to give caring little value and to pay care staff paltry wages, with no proper training in the effects of dementia. It is how we as a society treat older people and their lack of a right to mental wellbeing that is the real disability.
Adrian Chiles is to be applauded for drawing attention to the neglected subject of depression in elderly people, but he does old people no favours by leaving readers with the impression that elderly people are to blame for this state of affairs because they “tend to be less open to discussing their feelings”. The Age UK spokesperson he quotes rightly suggests that an important part of the problem is generational.
Chiles refers to friends of his in their 50s, with parents in their late 70s and 80s, who look upon these elderly relatives as “generally unhappy and anxious” and no longer finding much pleasure in the things they used to enjoy. I wonder if he asked these friends when they last had a proper two-way conversation with their parents? Is it perhaps the case that they find their elderly parents intrinsically uninteresting? Is this perception of older people shared by many younger people? I suspect it is. Addressing the issue of mental health in elderly people must surely start by not treating old people as wallpaper.