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How to Help an Aging Loved One with a Mental Illness

November 10, 2020

With a second surge of coronavirus cases causing lockdowns all over the country, this winter looks like it may be a difficult one. The elderly will be especially at risk for mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression because of isolation and loneliness. If you are worried about mental illness for yourself or an aging loved one, it may be helpful to know the symptoms of anxiety and depression to look out for and have a plan in place to get help should the need arise.

Mental Illness Statistics in Seniors

Studies show that mental illness is a huge problem among seniors. According to the CDC, approximately 20% of people age 55 and older experience some type of mental health concern, including anxiety and depression. In fact, men aged 85 and older have a suicide rate higher than any other population (CDC). Risk factors specific to depression in the older population include genetics, a personal history of the illness, stress, and abnormal brain chemistry. 

Aging changes the body and these changes affect many of the systems of the body including hormones and brain functioning. If a senior has been diagnosed with a chronic condition such as diabetes or Parkinson’s and others, their risk of depression will also increase. This is understandable considering it can be difficult to live with a chronic condition that prevents one from participating in beloved activities or even moving around the house. 

Symptoms of Mental Illness

Anxiety in seniors has many of the same risk factors and a few more, including poor health, sleep disturbances, side effects of medications, alcohol misuse, childhood trauma, or excessive worry. Anxiety can present itself in many ways, including panic disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and phobias.

Signs that your aging loved one is in mental distress include, but are not limited to: 

  • changes in hygiene or home maintenance
  • confusion
  • decrease in appetite
  • depressed mood or feelings of hopelessness
  • short term memory loss
  • physical problems such as aches or constipation
  • social withdrawal
  • unexplained fatigue

So, how do you help if your loved one is experiencing a mental illness? The first step would be to contact a physician to have an assessment done. Medications can help to control some parts of the brain that are responsible for feelings of depression and anxiety. Talk therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy are also great ways for your loved one to get professional help in dealing with the many emotions or circumstances involved in their illness. Aside from these things, there are many steps a family can take to ensure the safety and health of their loved one at home. 

Working with a Caregiver

Hiring some extra help may be a great option for most families. Senior Home Companions is here to serve with consistent and high-quality care, especially during the pandemic. As caregivers and companions for seniors, we work to create and maintain relationships with our clients, including in-home support and assisted living support. We can meet a variety of non-medical needs, including daily tasks, companionship, doctor’s visits, etc. When seniors have relationships and interactions, it can help to lessen the feelings of loneliness they are likely to experience during the pandemic and contribute to mental illness. 

Seasonal Respite Care

This winter may be a long one for many people. If you become concerned about the mental health of your loved one at any point, please contact their physician for assessment and treatment. Have a plan in place for your family, including checking in on aging loved ones to ensure they aren’t exhibiting any risk factors. Hire help if needed to keep the seniors in your life feeling connected and safe during this tumultuous time. Check out our site to find out more about what Senior Home Companions can do for the beloved seniors in your life!


CDC: The Stage of Mental Health in Aging America

A Place for Mom: Discover the top symptoms and risk factors of mental illness in the elderly