Caring for the Mental Health of an Aging Loved One

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  • September 08, 2016

Written by: Maria Villeza

As your loved ones age, you may begin to notice symptoms of depression, memory loss, and physical impairments. As upsetting as these realizations might be, helping your loved one continue to live a mentally healthy life is possible. There are various ways you can take an active role in monitoring and boosting the mental well-being of the aging adults in your life.

Learn the Risk Factors of Depression

Depression is the most common mental health concern for seniors yet only 10% receive treatment. This is likely because seniors display different symptoms than the average person. These symptoms can be insomnia, withdrawing from others, listlessness, and decreased eating. Some of the risk factors for depression include chronic pain, certain medications, social isolation, and certain medical conditions. Seniors that are already coping with an illness are far more likely to develop depression. The first step is recognizing the problem.

Identify Beneficial Treatment Options

Treating a mental health problem in your aging loved one does not necessarily mean a regimen of pills and weekly counseling. Treatments can be as simple as a few lifestyle changes. Key factors in maintaining the mental health of seniors are socialization, healthy diet (rich in vitamins and other nutrients), and exercise.

Of course, taking a daily walk and eating more vegetables will not cure a serious problem. If you feel the issue is more than you can handle, do not be afraid to seek professional help. A crisis hotline or county-funded resource center can be great places to start seeking professional help.

Suggest Memory-Preserving Activities

Many seniors do not want to admit that they need help. This can make them resistant to anything presented as “treatment.” A better alternative might be to plan beneficial activities. Memory loss is another very common side effect of aging and can sometimes add to the potential for depression. Some ways to mitigate memory loss and stimulate the brain may be exercise, healthy diet, and continued learning.

Suggest a senior swim aerobics class for both exercise and socialization to help your aging loved one remain more active. This is also a great activity for avoiding painful joint problems that may be caused by some other forms of exercise. Plan a few nights a week to try new, healthy recipes to get their diet on track. Take advantage of the many free senior education opportunities offered by colleges across the nation. None of these have the appearance of mental health treatments but can vastly improve memory loss, stress levels, and depression.

Be Prepared for the Conversation

Telling your loved one that you think they may have a problem and need help can be nerve-wracking, particularly if you anticipate a negative reaction. With this in mind, be sure to pick a time when both of you are in a good mood with minimal external stress and are open to talk. Timing can make all the difference in a tough conversation.

Choosing the right time is likely to make your loved one more open to new ideas and ways to improve their life. You may want to start gently, positioning these suggestions for lifestyle changes as something fun – perhaps something that you can do together or they can do with their friends – as opposed to changes designed for the sole purpose of improving their mental health.

When a loved one is aging, you are likely to notice some changes that may not be positive; it’s this experience that makes the reality of a parent or other loved one growing older so difficult to accept. However, with some quick alterations to your loved one’s daily routine, their mental health can improve drastically. Activities and socialization can ward off the common mental health issues experienced by many seniors, such as depression and memory loss.

Though getting them started on these changes can be challenging, it will certainly be worth it in the end. Marie Villeza hopes to fight ageism by connecting seniors with the resources they need to live happy, healthy lives. To aid her efforts, she developed ElderImpact.org, which offers senior citizens and their caregivers resources and other advice that will help them make the best decisions for their lives in an ever-changing world.

Image via Pixabay by JakeWilliamHeckey

Cherilyn Cecchini

Cherilyn Cecchini

Cherilyn is proud to serve as the National AMWA Blog Coordinator this year. She is currently a fourth year medical student at Sidney Kimmel Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, PA. Cherilyn recently served as co-president of her local Jefferson AMWA branch. In addition, she was chosen as National Secretary of the AMWA Student Division the year before last. She feels strongly about advancing women's health and is extremely thankful for both the networking and scholastic opportunities that AMWA continues to offer.

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