Caring for Elderly Parents: Assessing Mental Health from a Distance

Senior couple on a video calling using a digital tablet at home
Caring for an aging parent from a distance includes assessing their mental health.

The isolation and fear due to COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on the wellbeing of older adults, with nearly half of seniors surveyed in a Kaiser Family Foundation poll stating that their degree of stress and worry was negatively impacting their own health. Even though it still may be unsafe to visit in person, when caring for elderly parents, it is important to stay in regular and frequent contact, and to watch out for any changes or signs that may possibly indicate a mental health concern.

As psychiatrist Judith Feld, MD, MPH states, “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 and symptoms of depression to watch for include sleeping problems, loss of appetite, listlessness, and complaints about pain, which surprisingly, is often one of the key signs of depression in senior citizens. Be aware of anything that is out of the normal for a senior’s personality and character when caring for elderly parents.

It is important to recognize that depression is not just an unavoidable part of growing older, and that it really is a serious – but treatable – condition.

Below are a few further ideas to help effectively assess a senior’s mental health:

  • Make sure the conversation is organic and natural, without coming across as interrogating. Statements such as, “Tell me what has been happening in your life this week,” will persuade a cherished older adult to open up a lot more than, “Tell me what your physician said at your last scheduled appointment.” The goal is to be caring but not condescending, being careful not to attempt to parent your mother and father.
  • While talking with and seeing the grandkids on Zoom is an easy way to boost a senior’s state of mind, be sure to allow for some one-on-one time to talk without children present.
  • Take notice of what’s going on in the background of your video chats for any further clues, such as whether or not the house looks neat and well maintained, along with personal hygiene – unkempt, disheveled hair, for instance.
  • Consider whether substance abuse may be a factor. An increase in alcohol consumption during the pandemic is occurring in people of all ages, and may be very harmful if there are potential interactions with medications the senior is taking.

In the event that you suspect depression or any other mental health issues in a senior parent, make sure to get in touch with the doctor as soon as possible. Since you are most knowledgeable about the senior, you may well be able to pick up on signs 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 Midnight Sun Home Care for additional assistance. Our expert care team can function as your eyes and ears when you are not able to be there in person, and provide an array of customized services to increase socialization and quality of life at home. Give us a call at (907) 677-7890 to learn more about our senior care in Anchorage, AK and the surrounding communities.


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