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5 Signs of Mental Health Decline in Older Adults: Mental Health Month

Aging is a part of life and that often includes a decline in mental health or cognitive skills. Here are five key signs that your senior loved one may be suffering a mental decline.

5 Signs of Mental Health Decline

1. Disorganization

If your loved one has usually kept a tidy house, you may start to notice a decline in his or her ability to continue with normal activities. Look for issues such as stacks of unopened mail, piled up garbage or dirty dishes, spoiled foods and expired medications

2. Changes in Patterns

A person with a changing mental status may begin to change lifelong behavior patterns. These may include sleeping too much or at inappropriate times, weight loss due to inappropriate diet, or lack of eating or lack of interest in normal activities.

3. Personality Changes

A previously gregarious person may become withdrawn and sullen or a previously calm and sedate senior may become giddy and childlike. Irritability is also quite common as mental health declines in the elder years, with some seniors becoming aggressive. Irritability may also be caused by other issues like loss of hearing or fear of future living arrangements but any changes in a person’s basic personality traits warrants attention.

4. Forgetfulness

As cognitive decline advances, forgetfulness may become a bigger problem than simply forgetting a person’s name. Severe forgetfulness may eventually lead to dangerous behaviors such as “forgetting” to turn off the stove. If your loved one appears to be suffering from greater than average forgetfulness, can’t hold a normal conversation, or has done things that make you concerned for his or her safety, assistance should be sought.

5. Hygiene Practices

One common sign of declining mental health is a lack of personal hygiene practices. You may notice this in terms of ill-kempt clothes or in a more severe state in which your senior may begin to smell. Noticeable urine or other body odor or any sign that he or she is unable to conduct basic hygiene tasks deserved medical attention.

Keep reading: How to Help Your Elderly Parents Engage with Their World »

Steps To Take when Mental Decline Starts

Discuss the Problem

If you’ve noticed these signs of mental health decline, the first place to start is with your loved one. You need to understand how serious the problem is and he or she needs to be told that you are concerned. You should clearly inform him of your concerns and listen to anything that he has to say. Hopefully, he will be comfortable enough to acknowledge some changes but in other cases, intervention by a medical health professional will be warranted.

Identify Your Resources

If you have not done so, you should compile a list of “go to “ people and services. This may include family members, neighbors and clergy who may be able to help by visiting or stopping by occasionally or by helping with other issues. Make sure these important people have your contact information so that they may notify you if they see anything amiss with your loved one.

You should also have a list of health professionals, medical information and medication names and dosages and you should compile information about your loved one’s finances and personal or vital documents. You want to allow him or her to remain as independent as possible but you need to make sure that you have access to official and financial records to provide assistance in the future.

In addition, you may want to begin considering alternative care avenues which may be as simple as a home care assistant a few days a week but may eventually be as big as assisted living or other care facility. The time to start considering your options is now – or as soon as possible.

Don’t Take Away All The Power

Your loved one may be in decline – but you should allow him or her to retain as much power over life as possible. Keeping your loved one safe is the number one priority but ensuring his or her happiness will allow you to rest easy when you have to return home.

Keep reading: What Caregivers Need to Know About Aging and Mental Health »

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