Aging can be difficult for an entire family- adult children, grandchildren, spouse, and especially on the aging person. He or she may not be the person that they used to be and that can be upsetting to those around them.
It can be even more upsetting to them, because they may not like those changes. These changes aren’t something they asked for. It’s due to changes in the brain caused by aging, medications, medical conditions and possibly other factors.
Learning from Scratch
The very first job I had out of college was at a large mental health facility. I was assigned to the geriatric unit. This unit also served pregnant and medically fragile patients, even though it was rare to see patients of either category.
I’ll admit that I wasn’t thrilled with this assignment because I had no experience in this area, plus I wanted to work with a younger population. I wanted to transfer but had recently discovered that I was pregnant with Lily. The best option was for me to stay where I was.
This was a small unit- less than 25 beds. Many of the patients had conditions like dementia, Alzheimer’s, and even a few with Parkinson’s, but combined with mental illness. When those combine, things get a bit challenging.
I’ll never forget the 93-year-old woman that came in after physically attacking the director of her nursing home. She was so tiny that the entire staff wondered how she was able to do so.
I did learn quite a bit while I was there- the unit shut down due to budget cuts while I was on light duty. (Lily and I did not get along very well towards the end of my pregnancy. When I came back to work after her birth, I went to a different unit.)
- Empathy goes a long way.
- Take the time to really listen to what the person wants/needs.
- Remember that this isn’t a personal attack against you.
- The person you love is still inside, you might have to search a little deeper.
- Take breaks from caregiving when you can.
The Facts and Why Mental Health Issues Aren’t Easy to Spot
The triggers and symptoms of mental illness in the elderly aren’t much different from younger adults. The following information is from A Place for Mom
- Alcohol/Substance Abuse
- Change of environment, like moving from their longtime home into assisted living or a nursing home
- Illness/physical disability
- Changes in diet
- Medication interaction (this can be a big one)
- Illnesses that cause dementia (ex: Alzheimer’s)
Symptoms can show as:
- Changes in appearance
- Confusion, problems in decision making or concentration
- Changes in appetite and/or weight
- Memory issues
- Social withdrawal
- Trouble handling finances
- Feelings of worthlessness, helplessness, suicidal thoughts, etc.
- Depressed thoughts/mood lasting longer than two weeks
Mental illness can be hard to spot in senior citizens because it can be masked with other conditions. Many simply don’t feel the need to see their primary care provider (or other providers) for mental health issues. They also may see depression as “normal” with aging.
Some of the symptoms that are seen with depression- sleep and appetite changes, memory and concentration problems- are seen as a part of getting older. Some medications can cause these changes or even make them worse but are not always mentioned.
This information is courtesy of US News
What Can You Do?
Resistance may be a roadblock to getting your loved one to receive treatment. It’s best to have a plan for that before approaching them. There may be some shame involved in getting help, which is common. If you run into resistance, you can try focusing on the symptoms versus the disorder itself. Of course, it’s a good idea to get support for yourself.
If the situation has progressed to a point in which you need to discuss care outside the home, it may be time for a more in-depth talk.
- Choose a time when everyone involved is calm.
- Don’t take resistance personally. The resistance is likely from fear of the unknown.
- If the discussion doesn’t go well the first time, try again.
- If needed, get paperwork completed to properly care for your loved one. Adult children can get a power of attorney for their parent to make medical decisions as needed.
This information also found at A Place for Mom
If your loved one does agree to treatment, cheer them on and help them as much as possible. It is possible for anyone with a mental illness to live a full life, no matter what their age. Some need more help and encouragement than others and this is entirely okay. Having a plan will help everyone involved.
Pics courtesy of unsplash