An elderly man rummages through his bag under the Station Road bridge in Observatory. File photo: THE TIMES/RUVAN BOSHOFF
An elderly man rummages through his bag under the Station Road bridge in Observatory. File photo: THE TIMES/RUVAN BOSHOFF

About three in every 10 South Africans older than 60 will need medication for mental health in the future.

Prof Felix Potocnik from the South African Society of Psychiatrists (Sasop) said SA was one of the fastest aging countries in Africa ,but differentiated between normal aging and impaired mental health.

"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."

According to Stats SA‚ mid-year estimates in June last year showed that the proportion of older people in SA had increased from 7.1% (2.8-million) in 1996 to 8.1% (4.6-million) in 2017.

Potocnik is worried about the lack of mental healthcare. The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Global Health Observatory estimates there is one psychiatrist per 100‚000 South Africans and fewer in the public health sector. According to Potocnik there used to be five dedicated psycho-geriatric units at South African universities‚ but only the one at Stikland Hospital in Bellville remains‚ with an extensive waiting list.

He said aging was accompanied by emotions of sadness‚ anxiety‚ loneliness and lowered self-esteem‚ coupled with physical and/or mental disabilities.

"Older adults who are suffering from depression experience symptoms that disrupt their daily lives‚ resulting in withdrawal from social activities‚ friends and family and all the things that used to bring them joy. It is important for family members to be vigilant and recognise any changes in behaviour‚ and to seek help from medical and allied services."

Potocnik said dementia first manifests as irritability‚ emotional outbursts and struggling to think abstractly or logically before patients become forgetful.

"The brain’s inability to function properly starts affecting everyday activities. The person may thus present with an inability to keep their attention and focus long enough to meaningfully read a book‚ an article‚ or follow a TV programme‚" Potocnik said.

"Apart from becoming forgetful‚ one becomes repetitive and may forget to feed pets or food cooking in the oven. In more advanced stages of memory loss one may forget crucial details and dates as well as not remembering or even recognising family members."