DEPRESSION in senior citizens does not manifest in the same way as it does in younger adults. The symptoms and signs include forgetfulness, irritability and a loss of interest in activities they they used to enjoy.
To prevent depression, senior citizens should keep fit and active, says Datuk Dr Andrew Mohanraj, deputy president of the Malaysian Mental Health Association.
They should also have regular social interaction, with family and friends, and have balanced meals and sleep well.
He says that going from an active lifestyle as a working professional to retirement can cause depression, especially in men, who don’t seem to adapt as well as women. This is possibly because women tend to play an active role at work and at home, while some men have for many years just focused on work.
People in the post-retirement age group tend to show more pronounced symptoms of depression which largely is unchecked.
He offers these options for the post-retirement group to help keep depression away:
Take up a course or do a PhD (doctorate)
“I think it’s very important to realise their dreams. They are in a position to pursue a PhD now as they have more time. Or, they could take up a course that they always wanted to do,” says Dr Mohanraj.
Join an NGO (non-governmental organisation)
He says the senior citizens can join an NGO, or they can do some volunteer work to help the environment. Just because they are retired doesn’t mean they now have to only contribute to their family. They can play a bigger role in society, says Dr Mohanraj.
Write, play games, do puzzles
It is important to exercise the brain. The senior citizens should keep their mind active so that they are less likely to become forgetful. “If the mind remains inactive, it can lead to some feeling of hopelessness, and that can also result in depression,” says Dr Mohanraj.
Do what you’ve always wanted to do
He advises senior citizens to do what they’ve always wanted to do but never had the time for, like going on a cruise, or catching up with friends.
“All their lives they have been so busy looking after their children and ensuring that their children get a good education, but once they have completed all these tasks, that might be the moment for them to write a book, for example, or go on a cruise.”
Get on social media
Dr Mohanraj also suggests that senior citizens get on social media like Facebook or even start a blog. This can be a way for them to contribute to society in a smaller way, perhaps by offering advice or sharing their knowledge and experience from their many years in the professional world.
Dr Mohanraj believes that the government and policy makers need to do their part by providing activities and community centres for senior citizens to spend their days in a useful manner interacting with their peers.
“I think it would be a tremendous waste and a shame, if society cannot benefit from that wealth of knowledge that most senior citizens have. They might not hold senior positions in the government or be a CEO (chief executive officer) of a company but I think in every small way there is wisdom that has been accumulated and that should not go to waste,” he says.
Dr Mohanraj also thinks that the government needs to increase the retirement age.
“In many developed countries they have already done that. They have realised that people who are retired or close to retirement really have got a wealth of knowledge that they can contribute to society and by pensioning them, you are actually ignoring the wealth of knowledge that they can bring in.
“As a society I think we must also understand that simply because somebody is elderly or retired doesn’t mean that they cannot contribute to society.”
He believes that the attitude towards senior citizens must change seeing as Malaysia is going to become an ageing population by 2021.
“One important reason why it should change is that it is inevitable that everybody will be in that position one day,” he says.
According to him, the public at large doesn’t seem to be ready for the country to transform into an ageing population. He believes that when Malaysia becomes an ageing population, it will have a strong impact and radically change a lot of things, from healthcare to families.
He recommends the monitoring of senior citizens for signs and symptoms of depression. If senior citizens feel useful and do not feel like they are a burden to their family and friends, they are more inclined to feel good about themselves and this will help keep depression at bay.