That’s the thing about your relationship with your parents: More often than not, you end up taking their unconditional love and care for granted at some point or the other. However, what is even worse is the fact that once you get busier with your lives, this ‘taking for granted’ attitude tends to increase ten folds—all this while your parents are getting older and need you more than ever.
The result? Unfortunately, your lack of attention towards them, the sense of getting weaker with age, the insecurity of losing the control they once had, topped with the sadness of feeling undesirable and lonely can really get to them which could result in a mental-health issue without you or them realising that they’re suffering from one.
“It is a myth that the older one gets, the more immune he/she is to mental health issues. In reality, the elderly are susceptible to mental health issues as well,” says Dr. Vasanth R., consultant psychiatrist, Fortis Malar Hospital, Chennai.
“Elderly people are most vulnerable to depression. In fact, the majority of the elderly suffer from it. The second most common mental health issues are anxiety-related disorders. Besides this, neurocognitive disorders like Alzheimer’s disorder and dementia are also very common amongst ageing people,” adds Shreya Das, psychologist, TriBeCa Care, a Calcutta-based eldercare organization.
Now, having understood that mental health issues can extend their grip on the elderly, the next question is what you can do to help them cope and deal with these issues. Here’s some expert advice to help ensure your parent’s mental health:
1. Identify and acknowledge their problems: “The first step is to identify the difference in your parent’s behaviour or his/her personality,” says Dr. Vasanth.
“It is ideal to quickly acknowledge the observed changes and seek the help of a mental health professional, who will be able to identify the disorder with various screening tools,” he adds.
In fact, Das is quick to mention a few symptoms of deteriorating mental health in the elderly that one must be wary of. Take a look:
*Persistent sadness, anxiety or feeling of numbness.
*A feeling of worthlessness or helplessness in your parents.
*Guilt without apparent reason
*Feeling tired constantly
*Loss of appetite
*Trouble in sleeping
*Difficulty in remembering names, daily events (more common in neurocognitive disorders).
2. Keep ‘em involved: “Just because the elderly tend to get slower in many aspects, it doesn’t mean that they need to be excluded from family activities,” Dr Vasanth points out.
Perhaps, keeping the elderly involved in household and other activities can make them feel more desirable and happy.
So, go ahead and play fun board games. You will be sure to see their eyes light up. Let them contribute in their own way to keeping the house clean. Involve them in important family discussions as this keeps their mind occupied, according to Dr Vasanth.
3. Spend time with them: Sitting and talking to your parents can really boost their mental health.
“Effective communication is considered to be the most important contributor to happiness in relationships,” says Das.
“Spending time with your ageing parents and letting them know that you are there to listen to their troubles and worries can help them a great deal. Narrate your day to them just as you would to your other family members. This will make them feel special, trusted, and loved; thus, reducing their stress levels,” Dr Vasanth adds.
4. Help them to follow a disciplined routine: “A strict routine for the elderly reduces anxiety to a great extent. The older a person gets, the more comfortable they are with familiar surroundings and routines. From waking up to eating to exercising to doing simple chores, you should ensure that your ageing parents follow their regime,” says Dr Vasanth.
5. Motivate them to work out: Exercise is known to improve mood and emotional well-being. It helps to improve physical as well as mental health. Hence, you should encourage your parents to include some form of exercise in their daily routine, according to Das.
“Walking for 30mins, freehand exercise, and yoga work like magic,” she says.
6. Encourage them to have a peer group of the same age: According to Vasanth, when the elderly have friends of the same age, it can keep them from feeling lonely. After all, nothing beats talking to an old friend and reminiscing the days gone by while laughing over a joke or two!
7. Stay in touch: In case you reside away from your parents, you must ensure maintaining touch with them—video calling, audio calls, regular visits, checking whether they’ve had their meds and meals on time—all this surely go a long way as per Vasanth.
8. Make sure that they get proper sleep and nutrition: “An average of six to seven hours of sleep and proper diet is important to maintain a good physical and mental health. It helps in combating most health issues,” Das points out.
Hence, encouraging your ageing parents to follow healthy eating and sleeping habits can benefit them in several ways.
9. Encourage them to pursue their hobbies: “Based on their physical health, it is good for the elderly to have a hobby that excites them. It can be gardening, cooking, knitting, or even watching the birds while taking a stroll on the terrace/ balcony. The list is endless! Including a hobby will not only lighten the atmosphere but will give them a sense of purpose and happiness,” Vasanth says.
All they need is your time and care. Your ageing parents’ mental health may need a little attention from you and you shouldn’t make any excuses to get out of it.