Has your elderly loved one told you the same story for the third time? Called you by the wrong name? Forgotten where the car keys are?
We might say these are “senior moments” and chuckle.
The brain, like any other muscle, wears down and needs activity to stay in shape. Memory loss and brain fog are part of the aging process. However, when social isolation, sleep disruption, poor nutrition, lack of mobility, and/or declining physical health are added in the mix, your loved one may be experiencing something more serious.
One in four older adults will struggle with issues of depression, anxiety, and dementia. Additional support and treatment may be necessary. Since mental health is so closely connected to physical health and resiliency, it is especially important for those more vulnerable to disease to seek interventions early.
Simple interventions can include:
Socializing more frequently
Learning a new skill
If there are noticeable changes in your loved one’s behavior—memory loss combined with despondency, weight loss, or increased anger for example—there are a few things you can do.
Start with a conversation. Ask your loved one how they are feeling and listen carefully to their answers. You can support lifestyle changes to reduce stress, improve social interaction, or nutrition.
Engage a social worker. Conversations about health and emotion can be difficult, especially with an aging parent who worries they will become a burden or lose independence. A social worker with expertise in older adults can help. They have extensive knowledge of resources in your community geared toward improving the lives senior citizens. Social workers specializing in memory care will provide coping strategies and exercises for memory loss.
Talk to a doctor. If the issue is physical, medical treatment may be necessary. A doctor can conduct an evaluation and recommend next steps. A therapist specializing in geriatric psychiatry may also be recommended.
Take care of yourself. Caring for aging loved ones can be mentally and physically taxing and might trigger difficult emotions. The adage that you can’t help another without helping yourself is especially apt for caregivers. Joining a caregiving support group or seeking out one-on-one therapy are also important for the caregiver’s mental health.
The important thing to remember for you and your loved one is that there is help if you need it. You are never alone.