Dr Salwa Al Suwaidi, Director of Senior’s Happiness Centre, during the workshop in Bur Dubai. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/ Gulf News

Dubai: Depression is widespread among the elderly but is left underdiagnosed most of the time, a Dubai-based doctor has warned.

During a workshop held on Wednesday to teach caregivers and volunteers how to provide better care for the elderly, Dr Salwa Al Suwaidi, director of Senior’s Happiness Centre, an elderly center operated by the Dubai Health Authority (DHA), said caregivers need to be able to identify any signs of depression among the elderly in order to get them the required treatment and therapy.

With the rise in the number of Emirati elderlies, the training workshop organised by Emirates Red Crescent (ERC) in collaboration with DHA, was aimed at empowering participants in different areas of elderly care, from right nutrition to medical and emotional needs.

Dr Salwa said Emirati elderlies above the age of 60 make up six per cent of the population in Dubai and the number is expected to increase to 11 per cent by 2032. “The increase in the number of elderlies comes as a result of the rise in life expectancy due to advancement in health care and treatment intervention,” she said. “But as elderlies age, they begin to suffer from non-communicable diseases, among those are depression and Alzheimer’s,” she said.

According to the World Health Organisation, she said, over 20 per cent of adults aged 60 and over suffer from a mental or neurological disorder. Dr Salwa explained the importance of identifying mental issues among the elderly which can end up having an impact on their physical health.

“Most of the time depression is left undiagnosed, and it often leads to Alzheimer’s. This can cause great suffering for the elderly person and lead to impaired functioning in daily life. This is why we are here to give caregivers tips on how to identify mental problems and the appropriate ways in dealing with the patient,” she said.

Elderly people can experience depression because they may feel that they have a lesser role to play in society or even due to painful illness which can leave them feeling sad or anxious, she added

“When elderlies experience depression, most of the time their physical pain can divert the attention from diagnosing their depression. Medication and therapy are the best form of treatment, but also encouraging them to exercise can help reduce the depression and improve their mood,” she said.

Elderly people above the age of 65 are at risk of suffering from Alzheimer’s, she added, with symptoms including a decline in their mental abilities, decision making and performing activities of daily living.

During the workshop, Alya Dokhan, a clinical dietician at DHA, emphasised the need to have a healthy diet tailored for the specific medical condition of a patient.

“All the elderly in general require more protein in their diet. As they age, they require less calories but their food should be dense with nutrients. Many of them begin to eat less as they age and we need to ensure their food is filled with proteins and fibre,” she said.

Dehydration, in addition to malnutrition due to depression or loss of appetite, is common among the elderly, she added. “When spending too much time indoors, elderlies don’t feel thirsty but we need to ensure they are drinking enough water.”

The workshop also included a spiritual speech by a religious speaker on the importance of being compassionate with the elderly.

Mohammad Abdullah Al Haj Al Zarouni, Dubai branch manager, Emirates Red Crescent, said ERC organises various programmes for the elderly with the participation of volunteers every year.

“We hold this workshop twice a year so we can prepare our volunteers and equip them with skills needed to take care of the elders,” he said.

Volunteers:

Fatima Al Darbi, Emirati volunteer in ERC: “I have been very passionate about serving this segment in the community ever since I began volunteering with ERC in 2006. I joined the workshop because I wanted to increase my knowledge and understanding of elderly care. Most of the speakers are specialists who directly deal with the elderly. Many volunteers do not have enough experience with elderly care, so this was a great opportunity for them to learn.”

Roaa Yasser Malas 26, Jordanian volunteer in ERC: “I have been a volunteer with ERC for the last two years. I work as a clinical dietitian in a UAE hospital, but in my spare time I like to volunteer and give back to the community. There were many events I volunteered in involving the elderly. I think this workshop helped teach every one of us on how to better deal with them on a psychological and physical level and also be able to identify any concerning mental issues they may be facing.”