I always feel honored when people invite me into their homes and families. As an Aging Life Care Advisor™ for Springpoint at Home, I take a holistic approach to working with our families. Often, the primary focus of concern is the person who is ill or the crisis at hand, which is completely understandable. But I am trained to look at the whole picture and often see needs that are missed by family members who are close to the situation.
One of the most common problems not addressed is the mental and physical health of the primary caregiver. The call for help may come from the caregiver or an adult child. Often, we are called in for an assessment because a loved one is on the decline and the family wants to ensure they are doing everything possible for them. During the assessment, another family member may express a concern for the caregiver who is looking tired and run down. The caregiver may seem more forgetful with personality changes and no longer engages in activities they loved, like gardening or golfing. This is particularly true of married elders where one person is caring for another. Too often a concern expressed about them gets turned around; “Don’t worry about me. It’s your mother who is ill.”
The most difficult of situations often involves caring for a loved one with dementia. Through our extensive network, we are able to recommend specialists and engage services that help to maximize function and improve their mood. In helping the person with dementia, we help the family caregiver and open the space for them to go back to what they love.
Because I monitor the family situation, if a caregiver is not resuming previous hobbies because they don’t have the energy, I will try to uncover why they are tired, not sleeping or eating. In many cases, the caregiver has stopped taking their medication. Often, they are focused on getting their loved one to the doctor and have not gone themselves.
Lack of appetite, poor sleeping habits and exhaustion are classic symptoms of depression. There is certainly cause and effect when a life partner grieves for their loved one living with dementia. But depression is not normal, nor is it an emotional problem. Depression is a whole-body disease. It affects our immune system, our metabolism and our ability to concentrate. It’s not just in our head, it’s in our whole body. Depression often co-occurs with many common illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke and cancer. People cannot just “snap out of it.”
The symptoms of depression in older adults may be different from those seen in younger people. An older adult may:
- Complain of being tired or having “no get up and go.”
- Have problems concentrating and paying attention. Unfortunately, this change often results in memory problems which can make it seem like the adult has dementia.
- Overeat or have no appetite
- Have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.
- Often irritable
- Cry easily or often
If you or your loved one is showing any of these symptoms, don’t chalk it up to old age. Depression can affect any one of us at any age. It is not normal and it is treatable. When you engage our Springpoint at Home team, our holistic approach identifies resources to help the entire family. Let us help you find a therapist who can come to the home or treat over the phone and identify caregiver support groups for you.
Mary Ann Ross, CSW, CDP
Springpoint at Home
Care Manager/Aging Life Care Advisor™
Mental Health America: Depression In Older Adults: More Facts
NAMI – National Alliance on Mental Illness works nationally and locally to highlight and destigmatize mental illness. NAMI helpline: 800-950-6264 10 a.m. – 8 p.m. EST