Caring for Elderly Parents: Assessing Mental Health from a Distance

Senior couple on a video calling using a digital tablet at home

When caring for elderly parents from a distance, it’s essential to monitor both mental and physical health.

The isolation and fear as a result of COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on the wellbeing of the elderly, with nearly one-half of seniors surveyed in a Kaiser Family Foundation poll stating that their degree of stress and worry was negatively impacting their own health. And even though it still may be risky to visit in person, when caring for elderly parents, it’s imperative to stay in frequent and regular contact, in order to watch for any changes or signs which could indicate a mental health concern.

As psychiatrist Judith Feld, MD, MPH, stated, “If a senior usually really enjoys a call with a grandchild, for example, but that seems to have changed, maybe you need to ask more questions, such as, ‘How can we be of help?’”

Additional signs of depression to watch for include sleeping issues, reduced appetite, lethargy, and complaints about pain, which surprisingly, is frequently one of the main symptoms of depression in older adults. Pay attention to anything that is out of the normal for a senior’s personality and character.

It is essential to recognize that depression is not simply an unavoidable part of aging, and that it can be a serious – but treatable – condition.

Below are a few additional guidelines to help thoroughly assess a senior’s mental health:

  • Make sure the conversation is natural and organic, without coming across as interrogating. Statements such as, “Tell me what has been happening in your life this week,” will motivate a senior loved one to open up even more than, “Tell me what the physician told you at your last appointment.” The goal is to be caring but not condescending, being careful never to make an effort to parent your mother and father.
  • While seeing and talking with the grandchildren on Zoom is a good option to boost a senior’s state of mind, be certain that you allow for some one-on-one time to talk without the children.
  • Give consideration to what is going on in the background of your video chats for any additional clues; for example, whether or not the house looks tidy and well maintained, and an assessment of the senior’s personal hygiene – disheveled, unkempt hair, for instance.
  • Consider whether substance abuse could be a factor. A rise in alcohol consumption during the pandemic is happening in individuals of all ages, and may be very harmful if there are potential interactions with medications a senior loved one is taking.

In the event that you suspect depression or any other mental health issues in a senior parent, be sure to get in touch with the doctor as soon as possible. Since you are most familiar with the senior, you may be in a position to pick up on cues that the medical team misses during routine appointments, and it’s important to help make your concerns known.

If you have any concerns, reach out to CareWorks Health Services for further assistance. We’re able to serve as your eyes and ears when you’re not able to be there in person, and provide a wide range of customized services to enhance socialization and quality of life at home. Call us at (949) 859-4700 to learn more about our top-rated in home care in Huntington Beach and the surrounding areas.