You go to the doctor’s office regularly to monitor your physical health, but your mental wellbeing is just as important. Whereas a positive outlook and self-image can reinforce healthy habits and relationships, fear and negativity can feed a vicious cycle of sedentariness and isolation. “Injuries” to your mind, much like injuries to your body, affect the way you portray yourself to others; together they inform behavior.
Behavioral health is the connection between mind, body, and spirit, and it’s an essential component of your overall holistic wellbeing. Much like one’s physical features evolve over the course of lifetime, behavior may change with age too. While some changes in behavior over time are normal and inevitable, certain underlying conditions like Alzeheimers, anxiety, or dementia can magnify and accelerate changes that may not seem logical.
Here is why it’s important to make sure your aging loved ones are receiving the behavioral health care they need.
What Is Behavioral Health?
Behavioral health and mental health go hand in hand, but they aren’t exactly interchangeable.
Mental health refers to your psychological and emotional wellbeing; it’s about the way you think, as well as the way you perceive the world around you.
Behavioral health, on the other hand, is more of an umbrella term that encapsulates mental health. It takes into consideration mental health, physical health, and the influence of one’s environment and relationships on the way they act, or behave.
Both mental and physical health conditions can have a major effect on behavioral health.
For example, someone struggling with depression has a mental health condition that causes them to feel hopeless or lack pleasure in their daily activities. As a result, their behavioral health is affected in the sense that they may struggle to leave the bed, refuse to eat, or become disinterested in socializing or other activities that once gave them pleasure.
The Importance of Behavioral Health in Seniors
Mental and behavioral health conditions in senior populations are at high risk of being misdiagnosed or going undetected at all. Symptoms of anxiety or depression may mimic the natural signs of aging such as frailty or memory loss, so it’s entirely possible that you may not even realize something is wrong if you don’t know exactly where to look.
Of the more than 20% of the senior population affected by neurological and mental health disorders, many will battle physical ailments simultaneously. The interplay between mental health and physical health is extensive, sometimes making it difficult to identify where the effects of one condition end and those of another begin. In reality, there is likely significant overlap.
Additionally, seniors with conditions like dementia may struggle to communicate as effectively as they once could. This can make it difficult for you as a caregiver to pinpoint the mental or physical origins of things that are bothering them.
Just by being present to observe the changes in behavior that may indicate that it’s time to seek help, is hugely beneficial. As a caregiver, connecting your loved one with resources in the healthcare field, despite not knowing exactly what is ailing them, can have a tremendous impact on their well-being.
Recognizing the Signs of a Behavioral Concern
As your loved ones age, it can become more difficult for them to convey to you any physical or mental pain that they may be feeling. Behavioral symptoms may be the first or only indications of an underlying mental or physical health condition.
Here are a few common signs to look for:
- Changes in mood or energy levels
- Noticeable changes in appetite
- Increased agitation, worry, or stress
- Lacking positive emotions; seeming to be without pleasure
- Trouble sleeping, or sleeping too much
- Social withdrawal
- Hallucinations or delusions
- Frequent memory loss
- Substance use issues, such as misuse of alcohol or other drugs
While certain signs of aging are inevitable, mental health conditions are not. It is important not to become resigned to changes that negatively impact your and your loved one’s quality of life, just because they may seem inevitable.
If you notice that your loved one is exhibiting one or more of these behavioral changes, it’s a good idea to help them seek treatment.
Common Conditions That Affect Behavioral Health in the Elderly
Any mental health or physical health condition can affect anyone at any age, though there are a few that are especially common in late adulthood.
Dementia is a general term for memory loss, cognitive decline, and language impairments affect.more than 7% of individuals over the age of 65. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia; though its pathology is specific, its manifestations are as varied as dementia, itself.
Dementia can affect your loved one’s behavioral health in a number of ways. For one, those with dementia are more likely to have mood swings or become irritated. They may also struggle with loss of memory and can have trouble forming complete sentences.
Wandering behaviors are also a unique characteristic of dementia in which your loved one may exhibit. They may wander around–or even away from–home and have trouble finding their way back.
While older individuals may become sad at times as they realize they are unable to complete the same tasks that they were once able to, depression is not a normal part of aging. Depression is a mood disorder marked by a lack of pleasure or feelings of sadness that are persistent and affect one’s ability to perform daily tasks.
You may notice depression affects your loved one’s behavior in a few different ways. For one, your loved one may withdraw themselves from social situations, or feel a lack of motivation to engage in activities that they once found pleasurable. Additionally, they may exhibit little positive emotion or sleep frequently.
If you’ve ever had aches and pains in your joints, you probably already know how much of an effect it can have on your mood. For older individuals with arthritis or joint inflammation, this chronic condition can have effects on both physical and behavioral health.
If your loved one struggles with arthritis, they may be unable to perform activities that they once were able to. Feelings of dependence or unproductiveness that may result can have profound effects on mood, and they may start to exhibit signs of depression or hopelessness.
Another mental health condition that affects elderly populations is anxiety. While it’s normal to feel a bit anxious every now and then, elderly individuals with anxiety exhibit intense and persistent worry or fear about everyday situations.
You might notice behavioral changes such as physical trembling or shaking, or you might notice more subtle signs such as rapid breathing, social withdrawal, irritation, or perspiration.
How To Help Your Senior Seek Treatment
The good news is that if your loved one is exhibiting a range of behavioral changes, there are ways that you can help them seek treatment to restore their quality of life.
Geriatric doctors are medical professionals who specialize in treating and caring for people over the age of 65. Often referred to as geriatricians, they focus on senior-specific conditions while also helping to provide long-term care measures to maintain improvements over time.
Geriatricians are able to understand the unique challenges that affect senior populations, such as loss of language or memory, in order to provide more specialized care for physical and mental health conditions that are affecting your loved one’s behavior.
This is beneficial for your loved one because it means fewer misdiagnoses, assistance for multiple conditions at once, and a better quality of life overall. A geriatric doctor may have strategies for overcoming barriers to communication with your loved one that make them feel more recognized and contributory than they’re accustomed to feeling at the doctor’s office.
With that said, convincing your loved one to seek treatment is the hardest part. Try sitting them down and speaking frankly with them, letting them know that you’re concerned about their health.
More often than not, they’ll be receptive to your concerns if you remain calm, sincere, and thoughtful in your approach.
Behavioral Health, for Caregivers
If you’re the primary caregiver of a parent or grandparent who has dementia or another condition, it can put a lot of stress on you. Taking care of your own mental and physical wellbeing is just as important to ensure the best quality care, while also maintaining your own quality of life.
The most important thing to remember is that you can always ask for help. You should never need to go through this alone, so enlist the help of other family members when you need it.
Also, take some time for yourself. Make sure you are not making caregiving your entire life. Devote some time each day to reading, watching TV, exercising, or doing another activity that you enjoy. You can even try to block off a day of the week where you can focus on yourself to prevent caregiver burnout.
If you feel like your mental health is being affected due to excessive time and effort being spent caregiving, it’s never a bad thing to seek outside help from a professional. Cognitive-behavioral therapists can offer a helping hand to you in the same way that they can bring relief to your loved one.
Finally, even though caregiving often feels like a thankless job, know that you are an essential component of your loved one’s life. Your parent or grandparent appreciates all of the work and effort you put in to make sure they’re comfortable–even if they don’t always show it.
Behavioral health refers to the way that underlying conditions and thoughts affect the way you behave outwardly. While addressing behavioral health is important at all stages of life, it is especially important in seniors.
The main takeaways:
- Behavioral health is a combination of physical health, mental health, emotional health, and other factors.
- Seniors often have unique behavior-related challenges that do not normally affect younger generations, such as memory loss or lack of language skills, which can make it easier to misdiagnose or completely overlook underlying behavioral conditions.
- Specialized geriatric doctors can help improve your loved one’s quality of life.
- Make sure to look out for your own behavioral and mental health as a caregiver!
If you’re looking to help your loved one get the care they deserve, Lightyear Health can help. We offer behavioral health services, as well as pain management and rehabilitation services to elderly individuals in long-term care facilities.
We are relentlessly committed to improving the aging process. Get the care you need.