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Helping an Aging Loved One Through Declining Mental Health

Mental health challenges can impact anyone at any time of life. However, older adults tend to be more vulnerable to depression and other mental illnesses, on average, with 14% of adults aged 60 or older suffering from a mental disorder.

“If you recognize or hear from a loved one that their day-to-day life is significantly affected by poor mental health, they are likely in need of treatment and support,” said Careforth Regional Clinical Director, Christine Cianciola. “Family members, friends, and primary caregivers are in an especially advantageous position to help older adults seek out mental health services to improve quality of life.”

Read on to learn the symptoms to look for in your aging loved ones, and the useful resources to assist with finding and providing quality mental health care.

Warning Signs of Declining Mental Health

Any number of causes can trigger declining mental health, from physical illness to loneliness to difficult lifestyle changes. Regardless of the situation, family members and primary caregivers should be able to recognize the following common warning signs of declining mental health:

  • Noticeable, persistent changes in mood.
  • Anger, aggression, or mood swings.
  • A lack of positive emotion, even with activities a loved one usually enjoys.
  • Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much.
  • Changes in appetite.
  • Frequent headaches, digestive issues, or chronic pain.
  • A reliance on alcohol or drugs.
  • Suicidal thoughts or comments.

It’s also important to note that for older adults, depression is sometimes misdiagnosed as dementia, since symptoms may include forgetfulness and disorientation. It’s also common for a person with dementia to develop depression.

The list of potential warning signs goes on, but the important thing is to recognize and address any significant changes in behavior that may indicate distress. The sooner your loved one can get the right resources and support, the better their overall health and wellbeing.

Types of Mental Health Treatments

Many types of therapy are available to people with mental health decline. These resources can be adapted to meet the unique needs of older adults. Below are some of the more common therapies used to treat depression and other mental health conditions:

  • Behavioral Therapy.

This form of treatment focuses on behavior and mood, changing the patterns of behaviors that may be negatively impacting one’s mental health.

  • Cognitive Therapy.

This model involves interrupting unhelpful, pessimistic, or harmful thinking patterns and reducing their impact on daily life.

  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

As the name suggests, CBT is a combination of behavioral and cognitive therapies, looking at the relationship between behaviors, thoughts, and feelings. CBT also aims to change the patterns that may be limiting a person’s ability to function at their best.

  • Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT).

This type of therapy focuses on improving the relationships and situations that may be causing depressive episodes and symptoms.

  • Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT).

Combining cognitive therapy with mindfulness and meditation, this type of therapy is used to change unhelpful thoughts and improve a person’s perspective and view.

  • Psychodynamic Therapy.

This method focuses on the relationship between a person’s thoughts and past experiences, often from childhood, and their current symptoms and mindset.

  • Supportive Therapy.

From a stance of empathy and supportive listening, the focus of this approach is to improve a person’s ability to make choices that reduce stressors and improve wellbeing.

These are just a few of the types of therapy used to treat depression. Working with your loved one’s healthcare team will help determine the best approach, as well as if any medications may be needed. Whatever emotions your loved one is dealing with, know that there are many types of therapy that can improve day-to-day mood and quality of life.

Mental Health Resources for Aging Adults

Finding the appropriate mental health care for a loved one can be challenging. It can take time for them to feel comfortable in reaching out for help, and it may take a few tries to find the right treatment option. Luckily, many resources are available to help connect older adults with the right mental health professional to find the appropriate care, including:

  • SAMHSA – The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has valuable resources, including a dedicated section for parents and caregivers.
  • Medicare Health Services Coverage – The Center for Medicare Advocacy has created this useful guide that explains Medicare coverage for various types of mental health and substance abuse services.
  • 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline – This 24/7, free, and confidential lifeline is an important resource if your loved one experiences a mental health crisis, and they can connect you with immediate support. If your loved one is a veteran, you can call the 988 lifeline then press 1, or find additional support via the Veterans Crisis Line.

Beneficially, with the rise of telehealth services, treatment options are becoming more accessible. This, along with the variety of therapies and treatments available, increase the odds that your loved one will find the course of care that works best for them.

Support for Caregivers and Their Loved Ones

With effective mental health care and the support of loved ones and caregivers, older adults can access the resources needed to manage even the most challenging situations. And through these difficult situations, remember that you are not alone in your caregiving journey. We at Careforth are here to help you feel supported at every turn.

Need help caring for an aging loved one? Visit the How We Help page on our site to learn more about how Careforth supports caregivers, or contact us for more information.

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