Much of the senior citizen, or 65+, population spends a large amount of time going to doctor appointments for psychical ailments and basic checkups. What many of them are not doing is going to mental health appointments for check ups or deeper issues.
Generationally speaking, this community was born anywhere from the 1920s to the 1940s. Culturally and generationally, mental health in this time was not accepted as the societal norm and people with “mental disorders”, as diagnosed by doctors, were most likely sent to hospitals and assisted living for the rest of their lives.
Nowadays, mental health is a big deal, to say the least. Learning about oneself, and the thoughts and feelings we have, and understanding our past and future is valued. Physical health and mental health go hand in hand, especially in the 65+ population.
There is an overabundance of life transition, including grief and loss, going on in this stage of life: retirement, kids moved away, grandchildren moved away, loss of partner, loss of friends, loss of siblings and other family members, loss of pets, change of home and neighborhood, moving into an assisted living home, and loss of self. Loss of self includes loss of own decision making, loss of independence and depending on others for help, loss of motivation, and loss of “old life”.
Grief and loss may lead to depression or depressive symptoms including, but not limited to: feelings of sadness, emptiness, and worthlessness, loss of pleasure in things you once enjoyed, inability to sleep, drastic appetite change, low energy levels, emotionally numb, and suicidal ideations.
*National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255*
*In emergencies of suicidal plans or actions, call 911*
Change is one of the hardest issues to overcome because there are so many things that people cannot prepare for. When changes happen in the 65+ community, people can be physically and financially ready, but mentally and emotionally, there may be much change and unpreparedness, and many emotions and thoughts swirling around, unprocessed.
A big change among people who need care (65+ population) and their caretakers is role changing. This means that for many years (let’s say 45 years or more), the parent-child role has been structured to have the parent above the child, as the parent was in change and acted as the head of the household. Now, the child is above the parent doing care-taking activities, such as organizing finances, organizing doctor appointment schedules, meeting with doctors and lawyers, and becoming the matriarch or patriarch of the family now.
Being a family member who is a caretaker is just as hard, if not harder sometimes. Watching the people you love change drastically and depend on you is heart-wrenching.
Issues can arise between people who need caring for and their caretakers. This includes: 1) Creating and keeping boundaries (parent-child quality time, important decision-making time, what a doctor can take care of versus what a caretaker can take care of, etc.); 2) Healthy communication (no yelling, have calm discussions, lay out the boundaries clearly, expressing and implementing expectations and roles, validation of thoughts and emotions, and understanding); and 3) Having a better understanding of what is going on for your family member mentally (see earlier parts of this post).
It is important for the 65+ population (and their caretakers) to have helpful and strong support systems, as well as many ideas for coping skills (which are basically positive and productive distractions). A support system can include friends, neighbors, therapist, groups, clubs, and other family members. Some great coping skills include going outside for fresh air and vitamin D, outdoor activities, exercise, reading books, listening to music, coloring, and doing puzzles (this is also great for healthy brain functioning).
If you decide to attend therapy, seeing a therapist who is non-judgmental and understanding is key. You must be comfortable with the therapist you are talking with to create positive change, or just to process emotions and talk through the pain.
Life is continually changing and giving us easy tasks, as well as extremely difficult tasks. It is all in how you handle it, and I believe in you!
If you have any questions about this topic or other blog posts you have seen on here, or would like to set up an appointment, contact me with the information below!
Gianna Russo-Mitma, M.S., Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist Intern
(702) 706-1811 - Practicing in Portland, OR