Mental health issues in seniors aged 65 are rising, but only a few people are aware of this. What’s worse is that only a few come forward to get help. Even fewer get treated due to lack of understanding and awareness, inaccessible healthcare services, and fear of being stigmatized.
According to the CDC, about 20% of the elderly population experiences a mental health issue. Furthermore, studies also found that older adults living independently, in senior housing, or residing with their families are all vulnerable to mental illnesses.
This Mental Health Awareness month, let us do our part in spreading awareness on this issue by learning about the warning signs of a developing mental health issue, how to spot it, and more importantly, how to help your loved ones deal with it.
Spot the Common Signs of Mental Illness in Elderly
Mental health problems are not a normal phenomenon that comes with aging. However, it can be difficult to identify because it can disguise itself as a seemingly “normal” feeling or emotion.
Granted, each specific mental illness has different signs and symptoms. For example, a senior with bipolar disorder may exhibit rapid mood shifts, like elation, then to a depressed state real quick. On the other hand, seniors with depression experience persistence in their depressive state.
However, these mental issues all started as something “normal” that your loved one thought they could “shake off.” Loved ones and caregivers should watch out for these early warning signs, indicating that a senior may be going through a mental health issue.
- Worrying, stressing out, or having an anxiety attack on small things or hiccups in their plans.
- A depressed state or low mood that lasts for more than two weeks.
- A gradual loss of interest in activities and social interactions.
- Social withdrawal or isolation.
- A change in appetite.
- Unexplained energy loss, low mood, and fatigue.
- Sometimes, an increase in irritability, anger, or other exaggerated behaviors.
- Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, guilt, and suicidal thoughts.
- Changes in sleeping pattern.
- Unexplained physical problems, such as headache, constipation
- Struggling to concentrate, remember something, or make a decision.
These are the telltale signs of a mental health issue and a looming mental illness in seniors. Now that social distancing and isolation are the new norm, loved ones and caregivers in senior housing should be more attentive to their senior loved ones.
If observed on elderlies, do not hesitate to seek a healthcare specialist on mental health, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist. Early diagnosis is the key to prevent a full-blown mental disease from developing. This also leads to an early treatment plan that usually does not involve prescription drugs.
Help Seniors Cope and Manage their Mental Health
Besides seeking a health professional, another way for loved ones and caregivers to help seniors cope with mental health issues is to show their support. Some of the ways you can do this are listed below.
1. Listen Without Judgement
Many people, even older adults, refuse to talk about their mental health problems due to fear of being misunderstood and judged. However, some might be hesitant to open up because they don’t know what to say or can’t explain what they’re going through.
When you feel that your loved one is hesitant to talk about their mental state, respect their decision. Tell them that you understand and to know that you are always here when they are ready to speak about their problems.
When they do open up, don’t jump at the chance to give solutions or unsolicited advice. Just listen and reflect on what you are hearing. When they ask for your advice, you can share your perspective and sentiments but don’t push it on them.
2. Know Your Limits
It’s important for loved ones and caregivers to show support to their senior loved ones. But, it’s also vital to know your limits. If they do open up to you, let them lead the discussion and refrain from diagnosing them or second-guessing their feelings. Just let them share as much or as little as they want.
You can still support them in other ways, such as:
- Normalizing mental health talk in your household or senior housing.
- Offering to help them get professional support and accompanying them to their appointments.
- Spending quality time with your senior loved one.
- Supporting their treatment all the way.
- Being compassionate and empathetic despite the negativity, moodiness, and hostility that comes with their mental issues.
- Helping them in tasks that seem stressful for them.
3. Encourage Them to Participate
It can be extremely difficult for seniors experiencing mental problems to participate in activities and get their lives back on track. However, actively participating in life is an important part of their healing process.
You can help your loved ones by gently coaxing them or leading by example. For instance, you can encourage them to live healthier by adopting a healthy lifestyle for themselves. Encourage activity by inviting them to watch a movie, walk around the neighborhood, or eat in their favorite restaurant.
If they are reluctant to participate, then you can start small by coaxing them out of bed or getting them to shower. Do activities that don’t involve going out of the house, like doing small chores, playing with a pet, or bonding while eating a favorite Chinese takeout.
4. Encourage Regular Check-Ups
Regularly attending doctor’s appointments is a huge part of your loved one’s healing journey. So, it is important to encourage and support them by providing whatever help they need for their treatment plan. Some of the things you can do to help with their treatment include:
- Helping them find the right doctor for them.
- Assisting them in scheduling their appointments and accompanying them.
- Checking on their medications and seeing if they are taking them on time.
- Researching other treatment options that might work for them.
Moreover, you can support their healing by helping them practice self-care, such as eating healthy, exercising, sleeping on time, and staying connected with their friends in senior housing and other family members.