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 doors 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 was 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 surmounted 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 can not. 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 can not shift this burden to our government. We can not 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 sufferers 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 wiping if unusual for the sufferer
  • Feeling fear and loneliness;
  • Thoughts of death
  • Refusal to eat
  • Refusal to take prescribed medicines
  • Thoughts or talk of suicide (remember, the notification 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 quickly:

  • 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.
  • Including the elder in parties and holiday festivals, but keep the duration of their participation at a level they can handle comfortably.
  • Drop in more often than usual on homebound elders.

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