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Aging parents and depression

Discussion in 'Anything goes' started by WaylonJennings, Jul 21, 2008.

  1. For about 10-12 years, my father has been in horrible health. It started when I was in college, probably coinciding directly with when he was laid off from his machinist job for the last time.

    He lost his appetite back then and was in and out of doctor's offices. They always told him there was nothing wrong. They couldn't find anything, and it frustrated him. He's a heavy smoker anyway, and if my mom tries to get him to quit, he just gets pissed because he feels like she's nagging him.

    His health has essentially deteriorated since then. He had a virus a couple of years ago that they thought was TB at first, but turned out to be something related. He's wasted away to less than 100 pounds. He's always dangerously underweight and hasn't had a real appetite for a decade. His face looks completely emaciated all the time.

    Well, last week, they apparently finally gave him some anti-depressants. My mother had to run him back into the hospital after he hallucinated, which I believe is somewhat common.

    I don't know if it'll do any good, because I think my dad is from the "rub-some-dirt-on-it" generation. But I hope that there's still hope left. I just wonder if it's possible that he's been silently dealing with depression for more than a decade, and no doctor ever realized it??

    I know nobody on here is a doctor, but does any of this make any sense, particuarly the weight loss/loss of appetite for years on end? Any suggestions from anyone who has dealt with anything similar in their own families?
  2. BYH

    BYH Active Member

    Are you my long-lost brother?

    My father has almost the exact same symptoms. He's always been moody, but it's been much worse since he retired three or four years ago. He wanted out b/c he didn't want to deal with the stress of the stock market anymore, but now he just sits around the house and mopes all day. He's OCD to an almost comical extent: Walking around the house to make sure the lights are off and the doors are locked at night, doing everything at the exact same time every day and asking my mom a hundred times if she's sure she'll be able to run an errand. "Ma are you sure you can go to the bank today? are you sure? Are you sure? You sure you'll be able to go to the bank today?"

    He's not 100 pounds, but he can't be much more than 135 on a 5-foot-9 frame. He also has chronic pain in his legs that he blames on overdoing it as a runner 20-odd years ago. He's been tested for everything under the sun, but it's all come back negative. He spent a week at the Mayo Clinic in 1995...nothing.

    At one point, it was determined he had a pitutuary gland problem and he was given steroids to combat it. He felt much better for a few months, but a change in insurance providers made it impossible to afford the drugs and he's been unhappy ever since. And he felt frustrated by going to doctor after doctor who wouldn't find out what was wrong with him, so he's stopped going to doctors (beyond his regular one).

    However, most of us in the family have come to think that the pain in the legs is a symptom of depression. For instance, my four-year-old nephew can go running into his legs and my dad won't say anything.

    As I said, he's always been moody and lonely...he was an only child who lost both his parents before he got married. It's quite understandable that he's a pessimist who expects the worst out of everything. He's been even more vulnerable since my sister was in a near-fatal car accident in 1993. But he's also 60 years old and certainly a member of the "rub some dirt on it" generation. I'll occassionally ask him what's wrong or if he needs anything and he just says "Don't worry about me. These are my problems."

    I even asked the lead physician for a team I covered if he could recommend anyone who could give my dad a battery of tests. The guy said to go to a certain well-known hospital, ask for so-and-so and for my dad to tell him he was sent there by Dr. X. But he never pursued it.

    It's an incredibly helpless feeling. And I can't picture us holding an intervention for him, either. Which is what he needs, because he's depressed and he needs help and he needs to be told that it's not a sign of weakness to admit he's sad and needs help.
  3. I was telling my wife the other day - and I know this isn't rational - that I almost feel guilty taking care of myself the way I do. Eating well, working out, keeping a death grip on my future and not letting some corporation spit me out. Almost like I'm betraying him, because all he did was bust his ass every day they let him, you know? Never put his own needs first. Just us. Sometimes, I feel like if you're not a broken man by age 50 (my wife's father is a wreck, as well), then you haven't lived hard enough or something. Like, a real man shouldn't have anything left by the time he reaches middle age.

    Again, totally irrational.

    I'm sure it's the "lace-curtain Irish" shame logged into my DNA.
  4. writing irish

    writing irish Active Member

    My dad's lifelong depression got worse in his early 70s and worse still after a heart surgery when he was in his mid 70s. After I made myself a pain in the ass to his doctor and case manager for a while, they finally diagnosed it. Nothing happened as a result though. He wouldn't take meds and he wouldn't receive counseling. His personality, once vivacious and charming, just faded away as he gradually became a zombie-like nonentity staring at the TV. He died in a couple of years.

    My mom, who's still alive, is also depressed. She's been on medications for about 12 years, but they don't seem to do much. Her depression's as bad as it was before the meds. She's not motivated to try different medications. She's also never really tried to manage her depression. She's convinced that it's a "chemical imbalance" and there's nothing she can do about it. So she stays in her apartment with no social contact except for her weekly trip to the grocery store and her weekly long-distance call from me. I've pointed out that she needs much stronger drugs if she expects a life that uneventful to be satisfying, but she's always been very avoidant- never one to tackle a touch problem. She has no serious health problems now, but I expect that any future serious health problem could kill her easily if she doesn't change her ways. Which I don't, unfortunately, expect her to do.

    As for your dad, Waylon, the weight/appetite loss pattern is very consistent with depression. My dad went from a plump Charlie Rich look-alike to a skinny old man in about a year when he began his downhill descent.

    Best of luck, sincerely, Waylon. One thing I never had the balls to do was to confront, aggressively, my dad about his self-neglect. I struggled with him about this or that issue, but I never really got up in his grille about his overall attitude of surrender. At the time, I figured it wouldn't make any difference, and really, it almost certainly wouldn't have. But I still wonder, on occasion, how that conversation would have gone.

    "Once a man and twice a child- and everything is just for a while" -Bob Marley

    EDIT- Yeah, that lace-curtain thing is a bitch. One reason both my parents are/were so uninterested in socializing is that they see they see/saw themselves as failures because they fell out of the middle class and into near-poverty when they got old. Their shame is/was the reason for self-isolation.
  5. Flash

    Flash Guest

    My mom has been tail-spinning for the last 12 years. As I chat with my brothers, we start to recognize signs from even our youth but it's been getting really bad since my father died. She refused grief counselling at the time and, when I entered counselling for my own issues two years ago, she expressed her shame in me that I couldn't handle my shit on my own.

    Effective one week ago, I've had to eliminate her from my life. I have to deal with all the hurt and bile she's inflicted upon me and take care of my own mental health. I can't spend my days worrying about hers.

    But the old Irish Catholic guilt is omnipresent and often quite suffocating.
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