Are you dealing with aging parents who are behaving differently
As an adult child, you may notice some changes in your aging parent as you visit for the holidays. When you notice that their mood is ‘different’ or they are displaying odd behaviors, what could the causes be? Could it be early dementia or something else?
Depression: It could be depression. Older adults are at an increased risk for experiencing depression and are often misdiagnosed and undertreated. Depression is NOT a normal part of aging. Some signs of depression are: recurring tearfulness, feelings of sadness or hopelessness, feeling worthless, suicidal thoughts, recurring thoughts of death, angry outbursts and irritability. Depression is a treatable medical condition. If you are concerned about a loved one, offer to go with him or her to see a health care provider to be diagnosed and treated.
Anger/Anxiety: Along with depression, aging elders can exhibit anger or anxiety, which is uncharacteristic of them. This can occur as a result of side effects from medication, pain which is often ignored and undertreated, declining health, or frustration due to cognitive and physical limitations.
Fear: Anxiety can stem from fears – fear of dying, fear of becoming less independent, fear of the outside world. Some helpful tips are to:
- Be very calm and reassuring.
- Be supportive, acknowledge their fears and work with them to figure out some possible solutions to alleviate their fears (alarm system, grocery delivery service, transportation services, housekeeper etc.)
- Encourage them to engage in social activities even if it’s only on the phone.
- Encourage them to seek help from a physician or mental health professional. Sometimes medications and talk therapy can help.
Medications: The mood swings or odd behaviors can be a result of various medications and/or combinations of prescribed medications with ‘supplements’ and other over the counter medications. It’s a good idea to have an updated list of EVERY medication taken, including all of the over-the-counter medications, and ensure that your loved one’s medical provider has the updated list. It’s also important that the medications are taken appropriately, and not skipped.
Illness or infection: Sometimes changes in mood and behaviors exhibited are due to illness or infections. Untreated urinary tract infections (UTI’s), dehydration, Vitamin D or B12 deficiency are very common in elders. Untreated sores in the mouth or folds of the skin, dental pain, and physical discomfort can also cause behavioral issues.
Loneliness: Mood swings and unusual behaviors can also be caused by loneliness. Make sure that your parent who lives alone has interactions with others during the week. It has been particularly challenging during the COVID pandemic, but it can be done. In person visits from family members, companions to accompany them to doctor visits, visits with friends, walks, social activities etc., can be coordinated so they are not overwhelming, but they are consistent and give the elder a sense of connection and love.
Dementia: If you’re dealing with aging parents and your parent appears more confused, has difficulty concentrating, planning or scheduling events, forgetful, behaving uncharacteristically different, poor judgment, frequently misplacing items, it could be signs of dementia. Dementia is NOT part of normal aging.
When you’re dealing with aging parents, the holiday season may bring to the surface underlying medical conditions that need attention. Understanding the possible causes of these mood swings or odd behaviors, allows you to step back and not take what they say and do personally.
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