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Mental Health in the Elderly: How to Support Loved Ones

Article by Daniel Westhead Daniel Westhead Sure Safe Alarms

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), one in eight people will suffer from poor mental health in their lifetime. On top of this, they estimate approximately 15% of adults aged 60 and over are currently battling mood-related disorders.

Although we know mental health doesn't discriminate, there's still a lack of support for older populations. Sadly, seniors are often forgotten about in current media. Plus, many people associate ageing with a "natural decline" – they assume "everything goes downhill" from a certain point, so nothing can be done to help.

We're here to tell you that's absolutely rubbish. Life doesn't stop in your 70s, 80s, 90s or 100s – and for happiness, age really is just a number. What's the secret to better wellbeing? Keep reading as we explain everything you need to know, including how to help the elderly with depression and anxiety.

What do we mean by mental health?

Before we share several practical tips, let's define our terms. What do we mean by mental health? While it might be obvious to some, many older adults come from "stiff upper lip" generations, where they were taught to ignore potential red flags and symptoms. Unfortunately, it wasn't uncommon for those with mental health illnesses to be ostracised and institutionalised in the UK, as recently as the 1970s and 80s.

WHO defines mental health as "significant disturbances in thinking, emotional regulation or behaviour" that are "determined by a complex interplay of individual, social and structural stresses and vulnerabilities". Basically, some people have severe chemical imbalances, whereas others have trauma. More often than not, doctors report both in their patients.

What are common mental health issues in the elderly?

Mental health disorders manifest in different ways, with more than 200 classified forms of illness. As such, it's impossible to self-diagnose – you should always speak to a professional to identify the most appropriate support.

Below are three of the most common mental health issues in the elderly.

Anxiety

We all feel a little worried and nervous from time to time, but clinical anxiety takes those emotions to the extreme. Patients report significant distress over seemingly insignificant things, such as leaving the house or receiving a telephone call, and often can't cope with everyday activities.

There are several types of anxiety, including generalised anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and separation anxiety. All can be treated with medication and talking therapies. Additionally, you could invest in a digital safety alarm for extra peace of mind.

Depression

Depression is rife amongst older populations (we'll discuss the reasons shortly). It's different from sadness, which is usually reactive and short-lived. For example, you might be sad because you've ended a relationship, but the feelings won't last forever.

Instead, depression is relentless – sometimes triggered by a major life event, like a death, and other times inexplicable. Patients experience emptiness, loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities and hopelessness about the future, which can sometimes lead to suicidal ideation. Physical symptoms include insomnia, weight loss or gain and lethargy.

Interestingly, dementia and depression go hand in hand, thanks to complex chemical disturbances in the brain. If you’re a carer, keep an eye out for any of the warning signs above.

Bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder, once known as manic depression, causes extreme mood swings, including highs (mania) and lows (depression). Patients can stay in one emotional state for days or weeks before flipping to the other for no discernible reason.

During the manic stage, people might become hyperactive, talkative and impulsive. Sometimes, they may even experience psychosis, where they'll hear and see things that aren't actually there. The depressive stage is exactly as you'd expect, including many of the symptoms above.

What can cause poor mental health?

If you're wondering how to help a depressed elderly parent or friend, the first step is understanding the root of their distress. Once you've identified the triggers, you can devise an effective care plan or organise support at home. Common causes of poor mental health include:

Medication: Sometimes, depression and anxiety are side effects of certain medicines. Be especially cautious around high blood pressure drugs and statins used to treat high cholesterol.

Illness: As we age, we're more likely to develop chronic conditions like arthritis, Alzheimer's and Parkinson’s. Understandably, the loss of independence and painful symptoms can trigger anxiety and depression.

Loneliness: According to Age UK, around 1.4 million older Britons feel lonely. Social isolation is a breeding ground for depression, so it's crucial to regularly check in on your elderly loved ones. Luckily, you're never really alone when you install a talking pendant alarm.

Financial stress: With rising food prices, more people than ever stuck in rented accommodation and astronomical care home costs, it's easy to see why some seniors become despondent. If you're struggling with financial stress, speak to Citizens Advice to see what support is available.

Grief: Although, logically, we all know that death is an inescapable part of life, we can never really prepare for the onslaught of grief. The elderly usually have to cope with more loss in a shorter space of time, which would be challenging for the most emotionally robust individuals.

How to help the elderly with depression and other mental health disorders

Maybe, you want to know how to help a depressed elderly parent? Or a friend who can't shake the blues? Thankfully, there are plenty of simple ways you can help, practically and emotionally.

Pick up the phone

Many seniors, more so than younger adults and teenagers, feel embarrassed and ashamed to talk about their mental health. This is partly because of the generational conditioning we discussed earlier.

Consequently, it can be a great relief when someone reaches out to them – simply to ask whether they're okay. Picking up the phone or dropping in for a cuppa can provide a much-needed lifeline during a depressive episode.

Organise professional support

Although you don't have to be a doctor to make a difference, sometimes you'll need professional assistance, especially if your loved one's mental health has deteriorated quickly.

People with severe depression, anxiety and bipolar might not have the energy or inclination to call the doctors, which is where family members and friends can help. Organising appointments, therapy sessions and travel arrangements takes the pressure off the patient, allowing them to fully focus on their recovery.

What about the times you or a healthcare provider can't be available? We suggest browsing our personal safety pendants. Trained SureSafe operators are always on hand to provide life-saving support in emergencies.

Help with the practical tasks

As well as providing an emotional outlet, helping with practical tasks around the house can make all the difference. Cooking, cleaning and shopping are everyday activities for most people but overwhelming for those with poor mental health. You could also offer to help with your loved one's finances, so they stay on top of bills.

Cooking is particularly beneficial because many people with anxiety and depression forget to eat – the last thing someone needs when suffering is weight loss and weakness. We suggest stocking up on plenty of delicious, nutritious ingredients, such as leafy greens, colourful fruits and brain-boosting wholegrains. In the words of Hippocrates: "Let food be thy medicine, and let medicine be thy food."

Enjoy a hobby together

To combat age-related loneliness and isolation, why not find a hobby you and your loved one can enjoy together? This can be anything you like, from playing board games to gardening.

Alongside alleviating some of the symptoms of depression, social interaction can prevent the onset of dementia. The University College of London (UCL) found that people who are socially active when middle-aged and beyond are 30% to 50% less likely to develop the condition in later life.

Where can I go for support?

Worried about mental health? It's important to ask for help as soon as possible. As well as contacting your doctor, the below charities and organisations provide free, completely confidential advice.

  • Citizens Advice offers a range of support, covering everything from household bills and accommodation to domestic violence and family separation.
  • The Silver Line is a specialist support line exclusively for seniors (run by Age UK), providing friendship and conversation 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
  • Independent Age helps older people facing financial hardship with practical information, advice and support.
  • Re-engage builds social connections for seniors through call companion schemes, therapy groups and engaging activities.
  • Samaritans connects you to a trained professional if you're in extreme emotional distress or considering suicide.

You’re never alone with a SureSafe Alarm

It's completely possible to re-find happiness and fulfilment after a mental health diagnosis, especially if you have the right assistance. Alongside leaning on family, friends and medical professionals, a SureSafe Alarm can provide another safety blanket if you're worried about being alone in the house.

Want to know more about our discreet and easy-to-use products? Simply contact us today on 0800 112 3201, use our live chat or request a call back via our online form. We’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

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