Advise Me

7 Ways to Care for Senior Loved Ones with Mental Illness

Life is full of little tasks. From restocking the coffee maker in the morning to when you brush your teeth at night, your day is full. For most of us, this is no problem. There’s joy in the day-to-day. In fact, these daily tasks are what keep us happy, healthy and well.

But caregivers know that even small daily tasks can be a huge burden for seniors dealing with mental illness. We spoke with Jennifer Bradford, a transitional care specialist at Banner Boswell Rehabilitation Center, to suggest a few practical tips that could make their lives (and yours!) easier and safer.

1. Keep Medical Records in a Folder and Make Copies

For loved ones that are still independent, making copies of their medical records is a good way to ensure that the right care is given. Create a paper and/or digital folder so that you can keep track of what’s been diagnosed and treated, so that you can be informed when speaking with doctors.

2. Sort Medications and Keep a Tally

For seniors with mental illness, remembering if they’ve taken their pills can be a real challenge. Sort pills into daily portions and keep them next to a calendar. As pills are taken each day, either you or your loved one should mark the calendar so that mistakes aren’t made. If your loved ones share space with children, be sure to secure medication where kids cannot get to them.

3. Take Notes When New Side Effects Appear

Oftentimes, change doesn’t happen all at once. If you’ve noticed new behavior or if your loved one mentions new or evolving side effects, take notes in your phone or in a journal that describe what you’re seeing. By looking back at past notes, you’ll have an easier time identifying unusual changes.

4. Make a Shared Calendar

You might find resistance when you inform your loved one that they have a medical appointment that day. Sharing an electronic or traditional calendar can help your loved one feel like they are part of the planning process and that they have ownership in their health.

5. Check in Often and Pay Attention to Moods

Even if you’re living with a senior with mental illness, it can take serious attention to see changes in everyday moods. Make time to have conversations regularly. If you start seeing them swing toward depression, anxiety or suicidal thoughts, know that it’s time to reach out to experts for help.

6. Expand Their Social Network

Isolation can increase risk of depression for people of any age. Be sure to make time to chat, laugh and tell stories with your loved one regularly. Safely schedule visits with friends and family so that they can flex their social muscles. Sharing hobbies is a great way to encourage social interaction. Emotional and social strength is key to maintaining physical heath. You can grow their social networks by inviting your family members and friends to assist in care or for virtual visits.

7. Exercise Together

A little fresh air can turn your worst day into a good one. Work with your loved one’s doctor to pick a few exercises that get muscles moving. Just like social interaction, regular exercise is a great defense against depression. Whether it’s a brisk walk through the neighborhood or some gentle stretching in the house, do it together so that you can enjoy each other’s company while you stay fit.

Learn to Read the Signs

Even for caregivers, it may not be obvious when your loved one needs a little extra help. Bradford offered some important advice. “Pay attention to their behavior. If your loved one is getting lost during simple outings, if their conversations aren’t fully coherent, or if you are seeing changes in hygiene habits it may be time to offer additional help. It’s common for seniors with mental illness to be easily overwhelmed or irritable about daily tasks, help alleviate their stress by doing the work with them.”

Sometimes help isn’t wanted. Be patient and remember that open communication is a vital part of any trusting relationship. This can sometimes mean difficult conversations for both of you, but remember that you are both partners in care.

Do You Need Help?

Even great caregivers need support from time to time. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or if your loved one needs special treatment, consider seeking support from professionals. In-patient care and at-home support are available to help. If you’re not sure, read our guide to understanding when your loved one might need in-home care.

Alzheimers Disease and Dementia Caregiving Senior Health