By Debbie Daniels

What will you do when your loved one is struggling with increased confusion, anxiety or depression? A primary care physician can rule out physical ailments but may not have a clear answer to the question, “Why can’t I remember?”  Just as there is a clear diagnosis for heart disease and kidney disease, the same holds true for memory and mood disorders.

Everyone’s aim is to live out their lives in a comfortable environment surrounded by family and friends, but this requires maintaining good physical and mental health.  Nothing impedes the ability to accomplish activities of daily living more than unrecognized and/or untreated depression, anxiety or confusion.

Following the loss of a loved one or an illness, seniors often feel sad and hopeless.  These feelings can be normal. However, key indicators that families should seek support from a professional mental health provider include:

  • Prolonged feelings of helplessness / hopelessness
  • Fearfulness
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Changes in appetite

Steps to Take

If a senior is exhibiting unusual behaviors or any of the symptoms mentioned above, a family member should consult a mental health professional, preferably one who has experience and/or training in geriatrics.  A geriatrician and a psychiatrist can work together to outline a treatment plan that includes ongoing supportive services, and which may not require medication.

If needed, medication can be prescribed to help seniors manage the neurochemical changes that are associated with memory and mood disorders.  If the prescribed treatment plan is not effective or if exacerbation of the symptoms occurs, families may wish to consider a brief psychiatric hospitalization to evaluate the patient and provide a clear diagnosis or to review the effectiveness of the medications being used.

While handling memory and mood disorders in older relatives can be difficult, families can turn to qualified professionals for help. Working with medical and psychiatric professionals, seniors can better manage their symptoms and realize their full potential.

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