It's Time to Start Talking About Mental Health
Posted: 5/14/2020 8:00 AM by
Although the conversation around mental health has opened up considerably in recent years, there is still a stigma around mental health and illness in many households. This month is National Mental Health Month, offering an excellent opportunity to examine the stigma around this critical issue and offer advice for you to provide care and support for any senior loved ones who may be suffering from mental illness.
Mental illness affects many of us personally. Data from the National Institute of Mental Health shows that over 46.6 million adults (that's 1 in 5 adult Americans) lives with mental illness. Within that number of individuals is a wide range of severity and illnesses.
You probably know someone suffering from mental illness
Mental illness is an especially serious issue facing seniors. Nearly 14% of Americans age 50+ suffer from a form of mental illness. With many seniors living alone and "putting on a brave face" for friends and family, this illness can often go unreported -- and untreated.
The signs of mental illness can often be misinterpreted as normal signs of aging. As family caregivers, it's important to keep an eye out for these common signs of mental health struggles in your senior loved ones:
Signs of mental illness in seniors
> Changes in appearance. If you've been noticing that Mom or Dad is suddenly not keeping up on personal care as often as usual, it could be a sign of mental illness. This could include applying makeup, brushing/combing hair, personal hygiene habits like bathing, applying deodorant, or even messy or dirty clothing.
> Confusing and difficulty concentrating. Sometimes, trailing off during a conversation or losing your train of thought can be seen as normal signs of aging. Other times; however, they can be indicative of a more serious issue. If you're noticing your older loved one struggling during conversation, be sure to mention it to your loved one's doctor.
> More worrying than usual. Moms and dads like to worry -- it's something we've all laughed or rolled our eyes about when we were younger. This can be especially true as Mom or Dad gets older. Parents worry! But, when that worrying becomes obsessive, seems to take over your loved one's thoughts, or seems focused on small issues that were never a prior concern, there could be a more serious issue.
> Memory loss. This symptom is commonly considered another normal part of aging, but sudden changes in short-term memory can also signify a mental health concern. While you'll surely mention memory loss concerns to your loved one's doctor, be sure to also mention any other changes or more obvious symptoms you've noticed, so that the doctor can more quickly and accurately determine the cause of these changes.
How to support older loved ones suffering from mental illness
Living with a mental illness, or providing care and comfort for a loved one suffering from mental illness, can be especially trying. Always talk to your loved one's doctor to ensure a proper diagnosis and treatment for mental illness. In addition, these tips can help you provide support and assistance to your senior loved ones:
> Promote social activity. This can be especially difficult for immobile seniors or those who are alone in quarantine, but social activity and interaction is an important component of treating mental illness, particularly depression. Once it's safe for Mom or Dad to go out and get more active in groups, encourage him or her to join clubs or explore new interests. Meetup.com offers some excellent group activities for seniors (specific to your area), and can be a great place to start. Of course, senior centers are also excellent resources. But in the meantime, schedule regular Zoom or FaceTime calls with you, your kids, other family members and friends. Check out opportunities to watch Netflix movies together (virtually), consider starting a virtual book club, and think of other ways to keep Mom or Dad active and engaged.
> Provide help with small details. As mentioned above, one of the signs of mental illness can be the slipping of personal care. Cleaning around the house and cooking healthy meals can also fall by the wayside when older adults are suffering from mental illness. Although you may not be able to safely provide assistance to Mom or Dad right now due to the quarantine, a trained home health aide will have the safety procedures in place to provide care to your loved one while also keeping him or her safe -- well past these days of quarantine. In addition to helping with those small details, a home health aide can also provide important company and conversation during the day, when you may be at work and unavailable. (Learn more about senior care services here).
> Talk to your loved one's doctor. It bears repeating, but if you ever feel concerned about the mental health status of your senior loved one, be sure to contact a doctor immediately. Mental illness can seriously impact your loved one's physical health as well, and there are treatment options available that can help.
We're proud to be a member of your "support team."
Whether your senior loved one needs help taking care of things around the house or needs more clinical care, the Interim HealthCare team is here to help. Contact the location nearest you to talk about your loved one's needs, and to determine the best option to help you continue to provide the utmost care for your loved one.