Let’s Talk About Seniors’ Mental Health

seniors mental health

When today’s Seniors were growing up, mental health was not commonly talked about the way it is today. With the soft roll-out of the new 988 mental health hotline, we wanted to shine light on mental health challenges that Seniors and their families often face. And who better to educate us than Bonnie Lane of Family Support Services.

Bonnie holds Masters degrees in developmental and counseling psychology and is a Certified Mediator and Certified Domestic Violence Counselor. Bonnie has worked for over two decades supporting families dealing with mental health issues, helping loved ones navigate the maze of care and resources available for adults of all ages. It is a pleasure to share our interview with Bonnie about this important topic.

Bonnie, tell us about yourself and your practice.

I’m a psychologist with over 25 years of experience in the field of mental health counseling and care management. I’ve always taken an intergenerational, whole-family approach. When the identified person of a family is a Senior, I work with adult children and siblings to make sure their needs are met. It’s important to me that my clients respect the wishes of their Senior relative while assuring them that their safety and quality of life are prioritized.

What common mental health challenges do you see among Seniors?

The most common mental health challenges I see are mild to moderate cognitive delays, exacerbations of previously-diagnosed mental health issues, such as increased depression, or anxiety and agitation, lack of interest in things they previously enjoyed, diminished appetite, or excessive sleeping. Any of these can be treated by a geriatric psychiatrist, with a neurologist’s report. 

How do Seniors’ mental health challenges impact their families?

Senior mental health challenges impact families in so many ways. The family dynamic can be completely reversed, with adult children making decisions for their parent. This can be very disconcerting for the Senior. It’s very important that the Senior is always approached in a very delicate manner when significant changes are being considered; even just bringing a caregiver into the home can be traumatic if the Senior was not consulted and prepared properly.

Financial issues can also present a problem. Not everyone is equally prepared to fund a long-term placement, or a long-term caregiver option. At times, other family members need to contribute either financially, or by taking their loved one into their home. No one solution works for everyone.

That brings us to mood swings, agitation, compromise, and planning. Senior mental health concerns can extend to anger, confusion, lashing out, sundowning, and retreating. A good mental health mediator can work with a family to account for all of these foreseeable problems and more. They can work with the primary care provider to get whatever medication or supplements might help, arrange for appropriate neurological testing, and assist with finding a therapist for both the identified Senior and the family. Some psychologists do the family work themselves and mediate as part of the family plan. That’s how I do it.

What are some barriers Seniors and their families face to addressing mental health concerns? What supports are available to help address these barriers?

The barriers can begin with denial, by some or more of the family, or by the individual themself. Different personal objectives of family members and financial concerns also come into play. Individual family members can also have preconceived notions of how parents should age, and they need to rid themselves of those for the benefit of the Senior.

Available supports for seniors struggling with mental health issues include geriatric therapists and grief therapists to help them better understand the changes they are going through. There are also traditional community supports like your local branch of NAMI. Different regions may have their own support programs. For example, in the northern Chicago area there is No Shame on U, mental health agencies such as the Josselyn Center, and CJE’s Adult Day Services.  Respite services may also be available by township at no charge for people caring for their senior loved ones. When the caregivers exercise self-care, the Senior receives more positive and interactive time with their loved one, improving both of their moods.

What advice do you have for Seniors looking to improve or maintain satisfactory mental health?

The best advice I can give for a Senior wishing to maintain good mental health is to stay active, eat healthy, keep their brain active, and spend as much time with family and friends as possible. Isolation is the biggest problem that leads to depression and other mental health issues in Seniors.

Thank you so much for taking the time to share your wisdom with us, Bonnie. For more information about mental health in Seniors, Bonnie recommends talking to your Senior’s primary care provider and accessing resources through NAMI and No Shame on U. And if you’re looking for comprehensive support with your Senior’s healthcare management, reach out today to learn more about our geriatric care management services.