Taking care of elderly parents can involve plenty of medical attention for physical issues, but what many fail to consider is their state of mental wellbeing. Becoming increasingly socially isolated while also losing the ability to complete everyday tasks that were once easy can lead to the deterioration of mental and emotional health in the elderly.
Starts at 60 spoke with Dain Heer, who holds a PhD in Chiropractic, and is an internationally renowned author, speaker and mental health expert, on the ways to recognise and deal with signs of mental illness in elderly parents or loved ones. As someone who suffered from depression himself, Heer is familiar with realistic and productive ways to approach the situation of mental illness.
He said engagement is key for those who feel as though they are witnessing their parents or loved ones slip into a depressive state. Understandably, without regular contact with others, elderly people begin to feel alone and as if no one is paying them attention or valuing them anymore. This is where Heer assured that even the smallest of gestures could make the biggest difference.
“Ask them about the things they used to do when they were a kid, the changes they’ve seen in the world, the advice they would give to somebody else, the things they used to do that made them happy,” he said. “And in that, what starts to happen is that they start to recognise that they have a life, they have lived and that the life they lived has value. They are actually able to be a contribution to someone.”
Allowing people to feel as though they still have value reminds them of their importance and purpose in the world. This could also be accomplished by discovering a new outlook on life which Heer said might be possible through interaction with younger people.
“What I suggest is for elderly people to seek out younger people to spend time with; people who don’t have the same perspective,” he said. “It would be great to find a place to mentor someone.”
Mentoring opportunities are a fantastic way to make a difference that can positively impact both parties. For those who are unable to leave their residency, it’s worth getting in contact with schools or other organisations that run regular visitations from students as a way of integrating through a trusted source.
Another option is to figure out what they previously loved to spend their time doing and find ways of bringing that joy back into their lives in some form. Heer said he’s witnessed this many times as a way of improving mental wellbeing and the way they view the role of their family in their lives.
“There was this one lady that was in a rest home and one of the things she liked to do was to dress up at Christmas time,” he said. “So in October, her whole family came to visit in their Christmas outfits and they brought a Christmas outfit for her to change into. It was like this woman’s world was transformed from one kind gesture by her family.”
Another great way to help elderly parents to recall their history is to help them with scrapbooking or writing or recording their favourite memories. This also provides family members with the opportunity to spend more time with their loved one and appreciate their true value.
Heer is determined to address and tear down the stigma surrounding mental illness and believes it’s time people start to look at the situation from a new point of view.
“I would love people to be able to have a different perspective and awareness of this area of mental illness and realise that a lot of it can be changed by how we interact with people. I want them to have the tools to give them a different reference point for being alive.”
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