Michele's Blog

Confronting Mental Illness

By Michele Scott

A conversation suggesting possible symptoms of dementia or memory loss with an older family member can be difficult. Yet, forgetting simple things, an inability to make decisions, unusual irritability, and personality changes are often symptoms of dementia or early onset Alzheimer’s. Depression, trouble sleeping, anxiety, and bouts of anger also fall into this category. As an in-home caregiver leading a busy life, these symptoms might be overlooked, missed, or attributed to aging. No caregiver wants to believe their loved one is suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.  A study in Neurology found; “….1.8 million people have dementia but haven’t been medically evaluated for the condition.” They also found many family or primary care physicians – who do not specialize in geriatrics significantly underdiagnose dementia.

“A geriatrician is a physician who specializes in geriatrics, the branch of medicine that focuses on senior health and the prevention and treatment of disability and disease in old age.” Many geriatricians work with a team of medical and social professionals who specialize in treating seniors including; pharmacists, physical therapists, nurses, psychiatrists, nutritionists and social workers. “The American Geriatrics Society suggests a geriatrician be consulted when significant age-related frailty and impairment occur, or the patient’s condition is causing the caregiver to feel significant stress and strain.” Changing doctors, getting referrals and navigating the world of Medicare can be challenging. The Health in Aging Foundation, an affiliate of the American Geriatrics Society provides guidance, support and health resources by phone and on-line.  

Telling a family member or notifying extended family of a diagnosis of dementia or Alzheimer’s can be difficult. The patient’s anosognosia (lack of insight) can be even more frustrating. No senior, whether in need of a caregiver or not, wants to be told he or she is displaying symptoms of a mental illness – especially dementia or Alzheimer’s. Their anosognosia or “lack of insight” is a symptom of their illness which impairs their ability to understand or perceive their illness. Introducing a professional caregiver into the household – if only for a month, a week or a few days can ease the pressures of longtime caregiving and offer feedback on the physiological and psychological health of the patient. A professional caregiver can moderate or lead a family meeting or discussion, answer questions, explain expectations, identify referral services and suggest support groups.

A loved one suffering from memory problems, depression, anxiety, falls, incontinence or side effects of medication may require the services of a geriatrician. Talk to your primary care provider and be open and honest about your concerns. Based on the patient’s medical history and the history of family members, a psychiatrist, counselor or therapist may be suggested. Aging is a process everyone goes through. Here at Home Helpers we want to ensure our aging population is well cared for and their caregivers get the guidance and support they need.