Mental Health

Mandy Kloppers

Addressing mental health concerns with your elderly loved ones

In the UK, 7.7 million (almost half of all adults aged 55+) admit to having experienced depression, with 7.3 million having suffered from anxiety.

For many elder individuals, there are a number of factors that can contribute to a decline in mental health, including ageing, the loss of a loved one, or their own ill health – but many don’t know how to go about seeking help or managing their condition.

With this in mind, Stewart Mcginn, Managing Director at Baycroft Care Homes provides his expert insight on identifying the signs of poor mental health in elderly relatives, navigating difficult conversations, and techniques to help them cope. Spotting depression and anxiety in elderly family members

  1. A significant change in behaviour and mood

A change in behaviour is usually a good indicator that someone is struggling with their mental health. This can emerge as increased irritability, frequent feelings of sadness or being tearful, or unpredictable mood swings.

  1. A loss of interest and withdrawal

If your loved one appears to be withdrawing from social situations they previously enjoyed, or losing interest in hobbies or activities they are passionate about – this can also indicate depression.

  1. Changes in sleep patterns

They may begin having trouble falling asleep or frequently waking up in the night. Alternatively, they may begin sleeping far more often, feeling constantly tired and lacking in energy – which can often be harder to spot in older relatives that often have a daytime nap.

  1. Becoming self-critical

Your elderly relative may appear to be becoming more negative in their attitude towards themselves. This can include vocalising their lack of worth, feelings of guilt, or picking apart  their appearance or personality traits.

  1. A change in appetite or weight

You may notice that your family member has begun losing their appetite and therefore significantly begun dropping weight. On the other hand, your elderly loved one may have begun eating more as a way to cope with how they are feeling, and started to gain weight.

  1. Difficulty concentrating

Anxiety and depression can also affect a person’s ability to focus and concentrate on things. This can include forgetting things, struggling to remember details, difficulty concentrating on the task at hand or trouble making decisions.

  1. Physical symptoms

Often when a person is struggling with anxiety and depression they may also display physical symptoms. This can present itself in a number of ways, including tension headaches or migraines, heart palpitations, digestive problems, muscle tension, shortness of breath, chronic pain and profuse sweating.

  1. Lack of self-care

Your elderly relative may begin neglecting their physical appearance, this can include failing to shower or bathe, clean their teeth, brush or comb their hair, apply makeup or put on clean clothes.

How to navigate the conversation with your loved one

When beginning to discuss mental health with your elderly loved ones, it’s important to approach the matter with sensitivity and respect. This can be a very difficult conversation for them to have, especially if they haven’t suffered with their mental health before.

  1. Ensure they feel safe and supported

Have the conversation with them one on one in private, in a place where they feel comfortable. This way they won’t feel ganged up on or put on the spot in front of other people. Express your care and concern for their well-being, and how it is common for ageing to affect mental health and that it is completely normal and treatable with support.

  1. Be patient and understanding

Know that it is completely normal for your elderly loved one to feel hesitant to discuss their mental health, and understand that you need to respect their boundaries. It is important to let your relative know that you are there for them when they want to talk.

  1. Be a good listener

When they are ready to talk, listen to their thoughts and feelings without interruption or contributing your opinion to the matter. It’s vital that you show empathy to what they are saying and validate their emotions, as this will allow trust you and fully confide in you.

  1. Offer help

It is also important to ensure that your loved one knows that getting help is a sign of strength. Let them know about the resources available to them and offer to help them find a mental health professional or support group. Make sure that they know you will be there to help them every step of the way, whether it be listening to their concerns, scheduling and attending doctors appointments with them, or simply accompanying them in engaging in healthier lifestyle habits.

Ways to help your loved one manage and cope with their mental health

  1. Professional help

Attend a local GP practice with your elderly loved one who will be able to suggest a number of evidence-based support from therapy to medication. If you have already decided therapy is the best option and can afford to pay for therapy privately, you can contact a mental health professional directly.

  1. Surround them with support

Make sure that your elderly relative is surrounded by supportive family, friends and partners. It can also be beneficial for them to join a mental health support group, to feel like they can share their feelings with others that are experiencing a similar situation.

  1. Encourage healthy habits and routine

A structured routine around daily activities, meal times and sleep can provide stability and security for your elderly family member, giving them a sense of control. It’s also important to encourage other healthy habits like eating nutritious meals, different levels of exercise, getting outside for some fresh air, and engaging in hobbies that use the mind like reading, doing puzzles, and arts and crafts.

  1. Reduce stress and increase relaxation

It is also essential that your elderly loved one works on reducing their daily stressors. You can create a list that helps them identify what usually makes them feel stressed and how to manage this in the best way. You can also encourage self-care and relaxation techniques like meditation, yoga, deep breathing exercise and journaling.

  1. Set realistic goals

The last thing you want your loved one to be feeling is overwhelmed, which can be quite easy when dealing with mental health. That’s why it’s important to break tasks down into manageable steps and set small and achievable goals. This will help to boost your elderly relative or friend’s confidence and morale.

 

 

Article courtesy of Baycroft

 

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