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Older people’s depression ignored and denied

Doctors guilty of ageism in dealing with patients, claims report

OnMedica staff

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

More than two million older people over 65 have symptoms of depression but are denied treatment that could transform their lives, according to a report published today by a leading charity.

Doctors are as guilty as society in general of ageism when dealing with older patients, says the Age Concern report Undiagnosed, untreated, at risk.

The charity is launching a national campaign Down, but not out to improve the lives of older people with depression. Depression is the most common mental health problem in later life, affecting one in four older people.

In preparing the report, the authors found “shocking” ageist attitudes held by many people, including GPs, and ageist rules in the NHS meant out of one million older people over 65 who have clinical depression, only around 150,000 receive treatment.

Most mental health services for depression exclude people aged 65 and older, despite the risk of depression increasing with age in later life, says the report.

The charity intends to help older people to recognise the symptoms of depression and encourage them to seek help.

It will also work with GPs to improve the diagnosis of older people with depression and ensure that effective treatments are available to all, regardless of age.

Gordon Lishman, director general of Age Concern, said: “Negative attitudes about mental health problems make it very difficult for older people to talk about their feelings or to ask for help. It is scandalous that hundreds of thousands of older people may be denied treatment because depression is wrongly seen as a natural part of getting older.

“Older people deserve better treatment - there should be no excuse for inaction. Without a major change in policy and practice, there will be 3.5 million older people in UK with symptoms of depression by 2021.

“The government and the NHS need to take action to stamp out ageist attitudes and practice, once and for all.”

The Mental Health Foundation welcomed the report and its head of policy Simon Lawton-Smith, said: “This report highlights the high level of undiagnosed depression among older people alongside the lack of effective treatments being offered to them. It is unacceptable that older people living in the UK are being denied such vital help, and that opportunities to prevent them becoming depressed are being ignored.”

The Foundation warned that the Government’s consultation on a national dementia strategy should not allow the issue of depression among older people to be sidelined.

Mr Lawton-Smith added: “As well as improving diagnosis and treatment in primary care, more needs to be done to promote the simple activities that many older people can do for themselves to stay mentally healthy, such as exercise, volunteering, and joining local clubs.”

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