Mental Health and Aging: Tips for Helping Through the Hard Times

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.

Bench

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

Triggers include:

  • 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

Dance

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

Book Review: “Fall to Pieces”

I love to read memoirs. For some reason, I really enjoy reading memoirs of those with addiction, and this was before my drinking became a problem. I’ve read “Life” by Keith Richards, which was fantastic but took three weeks because it’s over 500 pages.

I’ve also read Nikki Sixx’s book, “The Heroin Diaries”. It was a bit wild, but still very interesting. I’m just waiting for a member of Fleetwood Mac to come out with their memoirs. If anyone knows of one, please let me know.

I”ve read “Fall to Pieces” before, but it was a bit different re-reading it this time. This book was written by Mary Forsberg Weiland, the first wife of Scott Weiland.

He was the lead singer for Stone Temple Pilots, one of the best rock bands of the 90s. If you’re too young to know who this band is, you might want to go on YouTube. They were a great band. Scott died in December 2015, unfortunately from an overdose.

Book cover

The book opens with a very descriptive explanation of her childhood in California, a bit in New Jersey after her mom’s remarriage and, of course, when she met Scott.

Mary also became a model while moving around and became quite successful while still a teen. She also met her best friends during this time. She became friends with Anthony Kiedis, lead singer of Red Hot Chili Peppers. They have remained friends for many years.

It wasn’t until I read Scar Tissue, his autobiography, that I understood all the while Anthony was being my true friend, his own soul was being badly shaken.”

This stood out. We don’t always know what our friends are going through, much less anyone else. People hide things but still make things look at least bearable. I’ve been there for my friends through their own issues but yet struggling through my own.

The story of her relationship and later, marriage, with Scott, is so well detailed. She tells of the good, bad and in between. They were together off and on nearly a decade before marrying, and they had two kids together- a daughter and a son.

During this time, Mary drank and used a lot of substances. She knew it wasn’t the best way to live, but it took multiple attempts to finally stop using.

Mary also has had a long battle with bipolar disorder, possibly beginning when she was a teen. It’s hard for her or anyone else to know. She wasn’t diagnosed until well into adulthood, and this is well documented in the book. She struggled to accept this diagnosis along with being an addict.

Many people with either issue do. I will say she is being treated and is sober, but I won’t spoil the ending for you on how she got there.

Mary shared a quote from a community college class:

“In recovery, we look for progress, not perfection.”

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This is very accurate. Nobody is perfect, and anyone recovering from any kind of addiction certainly isn’t. Progress is what counts the most. It is not close to easy, and anyone who tells you it is- they are not entirely correct.

One of my best friends, Tyson, once asked me if I was okay while sitting at dinner and the talk to turned to beer for a while. I wasn’t a fan of beer to begin with, and he knows this, but he was making sure I wasn’t thinking about having a drink.

I wasn’t, but I am very grateful that he asked. It took a year before I could even go into a sports bar. “One day at a time” is the best quote I have ever heard that applies to recovery.

As many of us know, Scott and Mary did not work out (the section about the end of their marriage is a sad one) but they were able to co-parent, at least as of the writing of this book. I’m one of the millions of fans that were saddened to hear of Scott’s death. He was incredibly talented, like many others, but yet, he had an addiction that he was never quite able to end.

Pic courtesy of Google

The Words Left Unsaid

Regret is a terrible thing. I’ve lived with it and even with therapy, the feelings stick.

You can work through the feelings, but the situation itself remains.

Hands

So Close But Yet So Far

What hurts the most

Is being so close

Having so much to say

And watching you walk away” –

What Hurts the Most”, Rascal Flatts

It can be difficult to express your feelings with someone that you care about, for a variety of reasons. Fear is a beast that can keep you from doing what you need to the most.

What if I say how I really feel?

Does this change everything?

Will he/she freak out?

The closer you get to say these things, the bigger the questions get.

The Words Left Behind

I wanted so badly to tell Jake that I loved him, along with years’ worth of other things. “I love you” just happened to be at the top of the list.

I just didn’t. I was afraid.

I knew he cared a lot about me- but love? I couldn’t tell. He wasn’t a fan of commitment and I was aware that he had other women in his life, so I really struggled with the idea of saying this.

Things were about to change between us as it was- when he died, I was a week from filing for a divorce. I didn’t know what would happen next, but I was worried that putting too much on him emotionally would push him away.

We hung out a week before his death and there was one moment that I felt it was finally okay, and for some reason, I told myself, “Nah, next time. This isn’t it.”

There wasn’t a next time.

The next time I saw Jake besides work was his visitation.

Sad

Dealing With the Leftovers

I realized that I wouldn’t be able to tell him how I felt. This crushed me. I would never know how he really felt about me.

While sitting with Jordan at the visitation, I asked him if he thought Jake died knowing how much I cared about him.

“I think he knew. He really cared about you.”

Jordan has no idea how much that has helped heal my heart. I had a hard time figuring out how Jake truly felt about me sometimes and this has always stayed in my heart.

His words helped me come to terms with not fully knowing how Jake felt about me, along with therapy.

But how would I deal with what I didn’t get to say?

I wrote.

Of course. It’s the main way I deal with things.

I wrote in an online journal, in a letter from, like I was talking to Jake as I wrote. This helped immensely through my grief process.

Letting Go of the Words

How do you let go of the things you don’t get to say?

A few tips:

  • Just say it. Saying three small words would have saved me a lot of heartbreak. I could have gotten hurt afterward but at least I wouldn’t have the regret. I’ve often said on social media to not hold back and say how you feel.
  • Don’t hold it inside. If something happens and you are truly unable to tell the person what you need to, don’t hang onto it. This might set you up for emotional distress.
  • Write a letter and then destroy it. This can help you get the feelings and thoughts out, then you can let them go (safely)
  • Talk to someone. Verbally expressing your feelings can be extremely helpful, whether this is a friend, family member or even a therapist.
  • Distract. Sometimes our brains like to mess with us – either with “what-if” thoughts or replaying the situation repeatedly. Finding a good distraction, like music, cleaning, or even a funny movie can help.

We can’t fully avoid things we regret, as much as we would like to. We can, however, try our best to deal with it in a healthy way. This can also help with words left unsaid.

Men and Mental Health

As kids, most boys were told not to cry. They were told to be tough, to be “real men”, and those men didn’t cry and show emotions. They hid their feelings, no matter the cost.

This piece of advice has had terrible consequences, leading to high substance abuse rates, violence against women and children (among others) and other issues. When you can’t let out your feelings in a healthy way, it tends to come out badly. It also leads to higher rates of depression, anxiety and lack of self-care.

Why Men Don’t Seek Help

Everyone needs to take care of themselves, physically and mentally. This is a well-known fact. Men have a harder time acknowledging this because of the stigma they face in doing so. This will be covered in a later post, so stay tuned, but here are a few examples of what many men fear when going for help:

  • Being labeled as “weak”, “sick”, or any number of labels.
  • Having to be vulnerable. I can say from personal experience that starting therapy is rough. You are opening up with some of your worst demons to someone you just met..many men (and women) are not having it.
  • Being judged by those who know that they are getting help.

This information is in The Stigma of Mental Illness

Untreated mental illness can also lead to suicide, which has a higher rate in men, and men usually use more lethal means.

This fact breaks my heart each time I read it. Suicide in itself is heartbreaking and has far-reaching consequences.

As a mom, I’m teaching my kids that it’s okay to cry. My sons know it’s okay to have emotions. In light of numerous teen suicides in the news and those that I have lost to suicide personally, I feel a huge responsibility to watch out for my kids’ mental health. It’s HARD to be a kid these days.

Cameron started taking daily naps when he started middle school, and at first, I thought it was a phase. Then I worried about his heart because his SVT is pretty severe and can tire him out easily.

He told me that he felt fine, that school was just tiring him out. My next question was if anything was bothering him, and thankfully, he said no. Cameron is a pretty chill kid, but you never know.

Julian is pretty quiet, but he knows where Mom is if he needs to talk. So does Lily, but she is NOT the quiet type. The point of this is, please talk to your kids, no matter how rough it may be. Just check in.

What can we do for the men in our lives?

  • Check in with them. Especially if something major has happened to them recently- a death in the family, job loss, etc.
  • Be gentle. Most men facing a mental health issue don’t want to be forced into talking. Matthew’s parents divorced a few years ago, and there was a lot of drama involved. He’s not a huge talker, so I had to let him talk about it at his own pace.
  • Encourage him through whatever he does, if anything. If he decides to seek help, he needs to know you’re behind him 100%.

Of course, if things are going downhill quickly, please seek immediate help. You can go to the nearest ER or call 911.
Resources:

AFSP

Psychology Today

NAMI

5 Rules for Mental Strength

It is not always easy to be mentally strong. I struggle with this a lot. I’m still working on this one. There are days that I feel fantastic and days that I can barely get out of bed because I feel so badly about myself. I’m sure that many others feel the same.

How does this “being mentally strong” thing work? It’s a little different for everyone, but here are a few ideas:

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Being yourself. This is number one for me. I have fought very hard to be accepted for who I am by my own husband and that’s something nobody should have to do.

People change, and sometimes people can’t accept that. When you are comfortable with yourself, it’s much easier to be strong, because you have more faith in yourself. You know you can get through things. You know that you can tackle what is in front of you.

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Trust yourself. Many of us tend to underestimate ourselves, including me. I’ve made many decisions and second guessed myself, even on picking clothes, shoes and maybe even mascara. This tends to occur when you have low self-confidence.

I’ve learned to trust myself a lot more through therapy-working more to shut down that voice in my mind that says “That’s a bad idea, Wrae. Don’t do it. You can’t pull this off”. When you trust yourself more, you will believe in yourself more. You will make decisions with a lot more confidence, even about the small things.

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Build confidence. As Demi Lovato once said, “What’s wrong with being confident?” First of all, I love Demi. She has an amazing voice, has great style and she’s one of my sobriety role models.

She had a point with that lyric. What is wrong with being confident? I’m not talking about crossing the line and being all-out cocky or anything like that, but knowing what you are capable of and what your limits are.

Everyone has them, physically and emotionally. Don’t feel bad about those limits. For sheer example, I hate spiders, extreme heights, and public speaking.

I had to take public speaking in college and almost had a panic attack once. I was also hugely pregnant with Cameron. My professor wasn’t in the mood to send me into early labor, so he allowed me to give my speech from my seat and things ended a lot better than I had anticipated.

Confidence is good. This also helps with looks and body image- I’m a size 14 now and weigh in at around 170. I do not care to disclose that. I weighed 125 in 2015 before my life imploded and I was a size 4. I have been confident both sizes and weights.

Like every other woman in existence, even the awesome Tess Holliday (my favorite model), I have days where I think I look like crap, but then I remember what my body has been through and will continue to do and move on.

This took a lot of work because, at some points, I didn’t take my 60 lb weight gain well. This confidence can be hard to attain, thanks to social media and Photoshopped images of models. It’s tough to look at, so I tend to look at body-positive models.

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Daily reminders. I remind myself daily to take care of myself- this is a must do. If I don’t take care of myself, who will? I have two chronic illnesses and self-care is a must for both. I also remind myself “One day at a time” because that is how I have set my life up.

I just can’t plan far in the future anymore. Whether it is a phrase, app, or something else that helps, once you set your mind on something daily, it becomes a daily habit to take care of yourself and that leads to and supports mental strength.

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Not caring so much what others think. My mother is 62 and does not care what anyone thinks of her. She has always been like this. She’s small, very feisty, and hilarious. Clearly, these genes have passed on to me.

It took me a very long time to get to the point that I really didn’t care what others think of me, but that’s where I am sitting. It’s not healthy at all to care so much what others think of you, because it will break you down in the end. It erodes your self-esteem when you don’t meet their standards.

Your individuality will fade as you try to be more like others and less like yourself. This isn’t good for anyone.
These tips may be what you need to move forward onto becoming stronger. Take them and consider what else you may need to form more strength within yourself.