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Published September 08, 2012, 11:32 PM

Minding Our Elders: Hygiene problem could be caused by depression

DEAR CAROL: My mom always had pride in her appearance. Even as she’s aged and grown quite heavy she’s liked nice clothes and has always been clean. Now she isn’t interested in her clothes and won’t even bathe unless we nag her. She doesn’t like to go out with friends, either, and she used to be very social.

By: Carol Bradley Bursack, INFORUM

DEAR CAROL: My mom always had pride in her appearance. Even as she’s aged and grown quite heavy she’s liked nice clothes and has always been clean. Now she isn’t interested in her clothes and won’t even bathe unless we nag her. She doesn’t like to go out with friends, either, and she used to be very social. She often says she’s too tired to have visitors. Mom’s just 75, but she had open heart surgery a few months ago and she hasn’t seemed the same since. Her cardiologist says her heart has healed well and that she’ll be fine with time, so Mom doesn’t think she needs to see another doctor. We disagree because she doesn’t seem to be coming out of the mental funk, even though she’s physically healing. – Jeffrey

DEAR JEFFREY: It’s common for people to experience some depression after any major surgery, and heart surgery patients seem to be especially vulnerable. I’m wondering when your mother last saw her cardiologist. She may have had her last appointment when she was physically healing well, and the physician thought her progress was normal considering what she’d gone through.

What you describe is a dramatic change from your mom’s normal personality and could signify clinical depression. When people cease to care about their appearance there is often some health issue that needs to be addressed. This is especially true if the person was once quite focused on looking clean and stylish. Lack of energy, sleeping too much and the tendency to isolate are more indications of something wrong, especially when someone like your once social mom becomes reclusive.

Perhaps, as a group, you and your siblings could let your mom know that she seems to be giving up and that’s hard on the family. Tell her that you’d all like her to see her primary physician for a complete checkup. You can then alert her doctor about your concerns ahead of time so he or she can ask your mom about related issues. If the doctor breaks the ice, she may open up. Your mom’s medications should be given a thorough review, as well, because some medications can cause the very symptoms you describe.

When our once young bodies start to show signs of being less hardy, it’s human to feel somewhat depressed for awhile. It takes time to adjust our attitude and accept the changes that can come with aging and often less robust health. Sometimes people come out of these low times on their own, but other times they need medication and/or some talk therapy.

Your mom is lucky to have a family who cares about her welfare. Keep up the pressure for her to seek some kind of medical help. Also, as she improves, encourage her by complimenting her on her progress.

Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at www.mindingourelders.com.

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