Concern at lack of mental health care for aged in SA

2018-07-25 06:00

SOUTH Africa's elderly population is growing rapidly and it is doing so without adequate state mental health care.

The country's most recent population census (Stats SA June 2017) shows an increase from 2.8 million older people in 1996 to 4.6 million in 2017.

Professor Felix Potocnik, a member of the South African Society of Psychiatrists (SASOP), said that the demographic trend of South Africa demands an awareness of the challenges and needs faced by the elderly.

“There is a difference between normal ageing and impaired mental health and it's important to distinguish between the two.

“Often, depression and dementia are under-diagnosed, overlooked and untreated in older adults owing to a variety of factors which may include and/or overlap with other conditions and behaviours.”

The WHO Global Health Observatory data estimates that there is one psychiatrist per 100 000 people in the South African population, and even less in the state sector; a situation which is deemed grossly inadequate.

Due to this, Potocnik says greater reliance is placed on family, friends, social support groups, district clinics and regional hospitals to help with this task of providing services for the elderly. Additionally, medication is costly.

"We have medications available to treat Alzheimer's disease which, at half the dose, are also effective in vascular dementia, diffuse Lewy Body disease and dementia in Parkinson's disease. Treatment with both agents using the generic equivalents is available at below R 500 per month but is not available through the state health sector and is currently not funded by most medical aids.

“Most medical aids also do not recognise Alzheimer's disease as a Prescribed Minimum Benefit which makes medication and care very costly,” the professor said.

Potocnik also stated that aberrations of mood, among other symptoms, are a very early sign of impending dementia.

There is usually an underlying current of irritability, often accompanied by emotional outbursts. The patient may present with relapsing bouts of depression or anxiety which become increasingly difficult to treat.

A person’s personality may change; rash decisions and investments may be made; and memory loss in dementia includes the inability to learn new information, losing items of value, and becoming lost in unfamiliar surroundings. Apart from becoming forgetful, one becomes repetitive and may forget to do everyday activities. In more advanced stages, one may forget crucial details and dates as well as not remembering or even recognising family members.

Potoncik stated that the combination of failing cognition and motor activities may result in the person being unable to be self-sufficient and in very advanced stages they may not even recognise their own reflection in a mirror.

— Linda Christensen, Jigsaw PR.


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