Mental Health for seniors: How to Identify Problems and Get Proper Care

Having sound mental health throughout one’s life does not exempt a person from Alzheimer’s disease, depression, anxiety, and other similar disorders at an old age. The elderly are more prone to mental disorders and other complications than younger people. However, it is possible to diagnose these problems once they are accurately detected.

Many times, seniors are reluctant to seek psychiatric help. Psychiatric help can enable them to lead a normal life after the problem or disorder is alleviated. Older people sometimes refuse to acknowledge mental illnesses and take it in their stride describing it as an inevitable element of the aging process. If timely, mental health treatment given to the elderly can reverse the suffering.

Never ignore visible changes in a senior’s behavioral pattern, as these could be symptoms related to dementia, Alzheimer’s disease or depression which could be treated.

The most widespread of all mental disorders is depression. If one notices the following changes in a person for more than a couple of weeks they must seek help.

  • Feeling, hopeless, helpless and crying unnecessarily
  • Is irritable and dislikes activities which were formerly enjoyed
  • Is unable to concentrate, confused and disoriented
  • Thoughts of death and suicide
  • An increase or decrease in appetite
  • Persistent fatigue and lethargy
  • Insomnia and constipation

The brain constantly requires a steady supply of proper nutrients. Malnutrition can upset the functioning of the brain. Lack of vitamin B causes depression and irritability and could lead to dementia. Lack of sugar in the blood causes confusion and drastic change in one’s personality. The inability to chew well could make the elderly person give up some vital nutrients, leading to health disorders.

Noticing a Change in a Senior’s Mood

It is oftentimes the adult children that begin to notice their mom, dad, or relative going through depression, agitation, anxiety, or a notable change in behavior. By the death of a spouse or family member, financial worries, changes in health and mobility, or early dementia, these changes are often set in motion.

Your senior’s reaction is understandable. The current senior /elder population is a generation that was taught to “pull up their bootstraps” when life got tough. As a result, it is quite normal for today’s seniors to attempt to solve a mood disorder on their own.

How to help Your Senior to Accept Help

This “pull up your bootstraps” generation is not necessarily eager to accept or acknowledge a need for help especially when the words “mental health” is used. Mental health in their generational lingo can also mean “crazy”, therefore it makes sense that a senior who may already be feeling vulnerable would not want to be seen or labeled as needing care for their mental health. How does one help their seniors? Accepts help?

  1. Rephrase Your Terminology

Rather than using the term “mental health”, try using words that speak to the situation, for example: “Mom, let’s get some help with Dad’s death”, “let’s figure out how you can feel better” or, “I think we could both use some emotional support”, “I feel the need to see a counselor, why don’t you come with me”, “You are undergoing diabetics, try out diabetic swellsox it will give you the best comfort.”

  1. Help Your Senior Navigate the System

Giving your senior the phone number of a counseling clinic is most likely going to go nowhere. Help your seniors navigate the system. Call their physician or local counseling services to better understand what services are available. Find out what Medicare and their supplemental insurance will cover. If you can find a service that provides counseling at-home you might consider that option so your senior does not have to drive or is not embarrassed walking into a mental health clinic.

  1. Help Your Senior by Being There

Whether a counselor provides in-home service or the counseling appointment is at a clinic consider, if possible, going with your senior or meeting them there. You might even ask your senior if they would like for you to attend the first meeting to help ease tension and you may be able to provide the counselor with your observations if asked.

  1. What if One, Two, and Three Don’t Work?

If your senior adamantly refuses any help with their mood there are options. If possible, consider spending a bit more time with your senior or, if you are out of the area, consider asking one of their friends to check-in with them weekly. Help your senior make new friends by introducing them to their local senior center and ask for help from the staff on ideas to engage you’re senior. If your senior is in a retirement community personally call the social worker and or activities director* and ask them to work with your parents to engage them.

*NOTE: It should be noted that engaging a senior in activities is not going to fix a mood disorder but may be helpful for isolation and loneliness. A change in mood needs to be addressed at the heart of the issue, attending bingo and card games are not going to fix significant changes in mood.

Consider speaking to your senior’s physician if you have permission to do so. You can share your observations and he or she can bring up the question of mood at your senior’s next appointment and most likely conduct an initial assessment.

  1. When All Else Fails

It is a strong proponent of exercise and sunshine to improve mood. Help or encourage your senior to get outside (inappropriate weather of course) to enjoy some sunshine (Vitamin D). Remember the sunshine has to actually touch the skin for absorption, if your senior is covered head to toe, there will be little to no absorption, 10 to 20 minutes should be sufficient.

Bottom-line, you know your senior best and should keep this in mind when advocating mental health services for them.

Written by Rihanna Kelly

Rihanna holds a degree in health and fitness, has worked as a health instructor for over a decade at some very prominent health related organization and basically a writer by heart.

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