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Helping Your Loved Ones Suffering from Depression and Anxiety

Over the past two years, mental health has been transformed from something only discussed behind closed doors to an everyday topic. And conditions like depression and anxiety may not necessarily be tied to aging.

The coronavirus pandemic has brought countless challenges for people across all parts of society. But if there is one benefit the health care sector can take from this challenging time, it is a deeper understanding of the importance of mental health. 

While people of all ages suffered during the pandemic, older people were most strongly affected, both physically and mentally. As the virus started spreading, this age group was thought to be most vulnerable and advised to limit their social contacts. At the same time, necessary for protecting the physical health of the elderly, isolation has detrimental effects on their mental health. 

However, some of the physical effects of aging can predispose seniors to develop mental health problems. It is only natural to worry about your loved ones and their well-being, especially if they no longer live independently. Finding an assisted living facility or nursing home that offers behavioral health care can significantly improve older people’s well-being. 

Mental Health and the Elderly

Although there is no direct connection between getting older and developing mental health problems, many older people suffer from conditions like depression or anxiety. Some may have previously dealt with mental health concerns, but others establish these problems due to aging. 

For some people, the challenges of getting older can trigger depression, anxiety, or other mental health problems. Some of those challenges include:

  • Failing physical health 
  • Side effects from medication
  • Bereavement or loss
  • Financial concerns
  • Lack of social contact

Identifying Depression and Anxiety

It is not always easy to spot the onset of depression and anxiety in older people. Most symptoms develop gradually and over a lengthy period. In addition, both mental health conditions often present differently in older adults than they do in younger people. 

Signs of Depression

Late-life depression currently affects approximately six million Americans over the age of 65. It is closely connected to a higher risk of heart disease and limits a person’s ability to recover from illness. Medical experts have found that depression increases a person’s risk of dying after a heart attack, even if the mental health condition is mild. For that reason, it is critical to recognize the symptoms of depression and anxiety and treat them early. 

Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety in the Elderly

Depression displays various ways as patients become older. Symptoms that are visible in younger people are often missing in seniors. In those over 65 years of age, depression causes the following signs:

  • Trouble sleeping and feeling tired during the day
  • Grumpy, irritable behavior
  • Changes in weight and appetite
  • Slower movements
  • Feelings of confusion
  • Suicidal thoughts

While depression manifests differently, anxiety symptoms tend to be the same across different age groups depending on the patient’s age. 

  • Panicky feelings and shakiness
  • Muscle tension, soreness, and fatigue
  • Feeling light-headed or dizzy
  • Breathing difficulties, combined with sweating and nausea
  • Avoidance of trigger activities, people, or locations

Some anxiety or nervousness is entirely normal, especially when people face changes, challenges, or uncertainty in their lives. However, when the symptoms last for weeks and become debilitating, it is essential to look for professional help. 

Five-Point Roadmap for Dealing with a Loved One Suffering from Depression and Anxiety

Dealing with a loved one suffering from a mental health condition is not easy. Following these five steps will help carers and family members address the situation and support their parents or others:

  • Acknowledge
  • Talk
  • Touch
  • Involve
  • Advocate

    Step #1: Acknowledge

    It is essential to realize that depression and anxiety are not specific aspects of aging. Factors related to aging may have caused those mental health conditions, but they should be treated like other illnesses. 

    However, several factors related to aging may cause depression and anxiety in older people. If that might be the case, it is vital to identify the root causes of treating the condition. 

    Step #2: Talk

    The stigma around mental illness is decreasing, but talking to parents and loved ones about mental health challenges is still not easy. As a caregiver or family member, if you notice changes in a person’s interests, behaviors, or personality, try to address them openly. It is essential to remain non-judgmental, but it is equally important not to avoid the issues. 

    Asking someone whether they feel depressed or have considered suicide is though. At the same time, asking these tough questions could save a life. 

    Step #3: Touch

    Physical contact releases the “happy hormone” oxytocin. As people grow older and lose their life partners and friends, they may have fewer opportunities for something as simple as a hand on their shoulder or a hug. 

    Without released oxytocin, depression and anxiety can develop from a passing feeling to a more permanent condition. Granted, not every person likes to be hugged all the time. Respect your parents’ or loved ones’ boundaries while remembering just how powerful physical contact can be. 

    Over the first few months of the coronavirus pandemic, limited social contact certainly led to a lack of physical contact for seniors living in residential care settings.

    Step #4: Involve

    Getting older does not mean that seniors have nothing left to contribute. The opposite is the case: those who remain physically and mentally active with a purpose often live longer, happier lives. 

    Think about your parents’ strengths and involve them wherever suitable. Perhaps you need advice with a financial decision or struggle to evaluate quotations from different tradespeople. Could your parents help? They may be growing frailer, but many have plenty to contribute.

    Step #5: Advocate

    Put yourself in the position of your elderly parents or loved ones: when you are feeling emotionally low, can you make a good case for yourself? Are you finding it easy to access the help you need? The answer is most likely no. 

    It is important to advocate for anyone you suspect of suffering from depression, anxiety, or another mental illness. For elderly residents of assisted living facilities, support might include asking for a thorough mental health screening. If a condition is being diagnosed, seniors may also need help accessing the most beneficial treatment. 

    How Behavioral Health can Help your Loved Ones Suffering from Depression and Anxiety

    Behavioral health care is a critical factor in maintaining excellent physical and mental health. As people age, physical fitness may become challenging, but there is no need for a person’s mental health to follow suit. 

    Behavioral health care helps establish and maintain positive habits across different aspects of a person’s daily life. These habits may include regular exercise, predictable eating patterns, and access to opportunities to socialize. 

    Behavioral Health for Assisted Living Facilities

    Assisted living communities have to secure the perfect setting for behavioral health care services. Their community-based setup encourages residents to socialize with others. Most communities also offer scheduled activities like walks or age-appropriate exercise.  

    Behavioral health for assisted living facilities benefits the facility itself and its residents. Residents enjoy a better quality of life. Facilities find it easier to attract and retain their community by offering a more comprehensive range of services. 

    Those benefits extend to the facility’s team. Staff members will find it easier to bond with long-term residents, resulting in more enjoyable and fulfilling work. Increased job satisfaction leads to more muscular staff retention, which also has advantages for residents who do not need to become familiar with new carers. 

    Integrating Behavioral Health Services

    Behavioral health services can transform an assisted living facility and help set it apart from its competitors. It can make the difference between the community barely surviving or thriving in a competitive market. 

    If your facility is not yet offering behavioral health care to residents, consider joining forces with an experienced partner

    TrueCare™’s behavioral health program is designed to help assisted living facilities. Led by thoroughly trained and licensed mental health professionals, the program starts by assessing the behavioral health of current residents. 

    Identifying those at risk from mental health challenges is essential to treating them. At the same time, establishing excellent behavioral health habits can help prevent conditions like depression and anxiety. 

    Good habits help residents deal with changes like moving into assisted living itself or changes to their physical health. It is hard to overestimate the positive effects a comprehensive behavioral health program can have on assisted living facilities, residents, and teams. 

    About TrueCare™

    TrueCare™ is a nationwide Health & Wellness platform for families and businesses providing end-to-end solutions for COVID-19 testing, screening, vaccination, home care, and corporate well-being services.
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