Mental Health Tips For Seniors and Caregivers

Mental Health Tips For Seniors and Caregivers

Many of us are concerned about our physical well-being, as well as the physical well-being of our loved ones—as we should be. As we progress through our everyday lives, we get consumed by managing the bare essentials of our health and daily needs, and can sometimes fail to address concerns related to emotional and mental well-being. Mental health is often a taboo subject in many facets of society. However, maintaining mental wellness is as important as managing physical health.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrated Health, mental health problems affect about one-fourth of adults [in the United States] in any given year and nearly half of adults at some time during their lives.[i] Some of the most common mental health concerns revolve around anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder. They are treatable, and nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, oftentimes the more quickly these kinds of issues are addressed, the more effectively they can be treated.

Identifying Mental Health Issues

As fall and winter arrive, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)[i], the depression associated with the decrease of exposure to sunlight and activity during fall and winter, may emerge. This is especially true in more northern regions, and it can be a good idea to identify symptoms and feelings associated with SAD, so you can begin to feel better. Many signs and symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder resemble symptoms of general depression and may include:

  • Losing interest in things you once enjoyed
  • Low energy
  • Oversleeping
  • Changes in mood
  • Feeling hopeless, guilty, or agitated
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Changes in weight

Identifying or diagnosing SAD [ii] in yourself or others can be difficult, because its symptoms are very similar to other kinds of depression. The best way to tell if you or someone you care for may be experiencing SAD is to consult a medical professional. They can utilize resources such as physical exams, lab tests, and the American Psychological Association’s standard guide, the DSM-5[iii] to determine whether it is SAD or some other kind of mental condition you may be experiencing.

Keeping Track of Your Mental Health

Seniors, and those who care for them, need to maintain mental acuity. It is important to gauge whether you feel mentally and emotionally well over time. The process of aging can take a toll on mental health and other emotional factors such as confidence. Sometimes it can be difficult to realize that we can no longer do all the things we have been able to do in prior years, due to health, strength, or stamina declines. Sometimes all you need is a little positive self-talk to remind yourself that you are doing your best. 

Seeing the effects of age in our loved ones and those we care for can be trying as well. Even though these sorts of challenges can be difficult, there are ways to work through them and make them more manageable. According to Kelly Miller, who is certified in Applied Positive Psychology, improving or maintaining mental health can “sharpen memory, [improve] clarity in thinking, [and provide] stronger resilience.”[i]

Writing down thoughts and feelings at the end of the day is a tried and true method of dealing with stress and other mental challenges such as anxiety and depression. According to Dr. Elizabeth Scott, PHD, "Journaling allows people to clarify their feelings and thoughts related to stressful events."[ii] Journaling has been clinically proven to improve cognitive functioning and counteract negative effects of stress such as compromised immunity toward contagious illnesses. Sometimes you may have a general sense or feeling that something is not right with you or a family member. Journaling can help you sort out your thoughts, and potentially come up with an idea or plan of action to help your circumstances. If writing is not for you, or if eyesight or handling writing instruments has become difficult, you could try a text to speech function on a computer, or perhaps record your thoughts on an audio device.

 

Being Prepared Can Help You Feel Calm and Secure

If you are feeling the physical effects of aging, such as a lack of steadiness on your feet or the development of health conditions, you may benefit from the use of a medical alert system. Medical alert devices can be a great tool for feeling more prepared in the event of an emergency, which can enhance your feelings of safety and security, especially if you are living alone.

You will want to be sure you are wearing your device every day. That way you know that help is just one button-press away should you or someone else need it. Moreover another way to feel more secure is to test your device about once a week. To test the device, just press the button on the front of the mobile device, or the red button on the in-home base unit, and the device connects to the monitoring center. When the connection is made, you can be rest assured that help is always available.

If you have a mobile on-the-go device, it is a good idea to charge it about once a month, or once every few days if it has built-in fall detection. Fall detection is a feature which can be added to in-home or mobile medical alert devices. It functions by measuring the speed and impact of any fall-like motion of the device wearer. It also takes into consideration the amount of time the device wearer goes without moving after a fall. After the conditions for speed, impact, and movement are met, a fall signal is automatically sent to the monitoring center. The monitoring center will immediate initiate communication. If there is no response, EMS will be dispatched to the device wearer’s location.

Having a medical alert device can also function as back-up support for those caring for aging parents, neighbors, or friends. You may recognize that a friend or family member is struggling to maintain their daily routine, or having difficulty taking care of their parents. Often, they want to do more to help their loved ones, but are busy with work, children, or other responsibilities. Even those who cannot take time away from work can help their parents, neighbors, and friends have security when they are unavailable, because medical alert devices are affordable. It is easier than ever to choose a medical device plan that works for you without any long-term contracts.

Asking for Help is Okay

Whether it is due to societal pressure, or individual attitudes, many people feel it is a sign of weakness to ask for help. However, there is no shame in asking for assistance. Many people, especially seniors, take pride in their independence. They want to prove they are still functioning at the same mental/physical level as always. Many have accomplished great things: careers, family, and monumental adventures. Taking stock in how things are going, or admitting that things could be better, does not take away from any accomplishments.

People work better together than apart, and reaching out to one another can help us be our best selves. Being a caregiver can require a lot of energy, both physically and emotionally. Regardless of how much you can handle, you are better able to help others if you take care of yourself. It is important to remember that even if someone else depends on you, it is important to eat well and rest, so that you will be able to continue to help them and others in the future.

Caregiver burnout is real. You may need to ask a trusted spouse, neighbor, or friend to help you care for a parent or other senior. Perhaps a friend can stop by and deliver a meal or the newspaper to your parent or other elderly person in your care once a week while you tend to your own well-being. Sometimes the help you need is just the sympathetic ear of a friend. There is likely someone you know from your community who understands what you are going through as a caregiver. They may even be able to offer some advice. If you do not know anyone who would be willing and able to help you in this endeavor, there are many community support groups that can help you work through issues, or lend a hand to you and your family.

Explore Counseling

Although finding common ground among your friends and community is helpful in maintaining good mental health and a positive attitude, sometimes a trained set of ears is best. Counselors and therapists are trained to recognize mental health issues as they arise. Moreover, they are skilled at recognizing which issues just need discussion and which issues may require additional help or medication. If you are not sure whether you need counseling, you may be able to arrange a one-time consultation. There are also online assessments and counseling services, which may be a good option if you are nervous or unable to attend counseling sessions in person.

Exercise Can Be Easy and Useful

There are many low impact and easy exercises you can do to improve your mood and your health.[i] Often, going for a short walk around your neighborhood, or doing some stretches, can greatly improve your mood, and ability to handle daily tasks. If you enjoy being outdoors, but feel unsafe on uneven surfaces, a mobile medical alert device with fall detection, or a mobile watch, may be just the thing to get you back out there. It can also help you manage the stress associated with caring for a loved one. Even 15-20 minutes of exercise a day can make a difference, and it does not have to cause a lot of strain on your body. Sometimes, exercising indoors on or near a chair, can be one of the safest ways to exercise and minimize the risk of injury. As always, it is advisable to consult a medical professional before beginning any exercise regimen.

No matter whether you are a senior, or a caregiver of a senior, it is important to take care of yourself, both body and mind. Pay attention to whether you feel like you are responding well to the day-to-day demands on your emotions. Also be aware if someone you care for seems to be struggling to cope with their daily challenges. Feel free to incorporate some of the mental health techniques found in this article, such as journaling and exercise, to maintain and monitor your own emotional wellbeing or the wellbeing of someone else. If you notice any changes in behavior or health in yourself or someone else, it is advisable to consult a medical professional. Aging and caregiving can sometimes be stressful, and there is no shame in checking in with a friend or trusted medical professional about your mental wellness, or asking for help if you need it.

 

 

 

i National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health staff. n.d. Health Information. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Mental Health.

ii, iii Mayo Clinic staff. n.d. Diseases & Conditions. Mayo Clinic. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

iv American Psychiatric Association staff. Psychiatrists. American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5).

v Miller, Kelly. June. 2021. Body & Brain. Positive Psychology. The Benefits of Mental Health According to Science.

vi Scott, Elizabeth, PhD. Mar. 2020. Stress Management Techniques. Very Well Mind. The Benefits of Journaling for Stress Management.

vii Mills, Melissa, RN. Jan. 2020. Resources. Vive Health. 18 Chair Exercises for Seniors & How to Get Started.