Aging comes with many natural and often difficult to handle challenges. It is normal for an aging loved one to face emotions like grief as they battle a chronic illness, or as they cope with the changes associated with losses (such as mobility, loved ones, memory, or independence). These emotions are a part of the normal aging process but have the potential to lead to abnormal consequences such as depression and anxiety. Thankfully there are specialists who are trained to help your loved one through these emotions and events to guide them toward peace and acceptance. These specialists are called geriatric psychiatrists, and they can be invaluable resources through the aging process.
What is a Geriatric Psychiatrist?
A geriatric psychiatrist is a doctor who has taken on years of additional training to specialize in “the diagnosis and treatment of mental health disorders that may occur in older adults.” (Source.)
Their goal for your loved one is to understand their experience, diagnose any disorders (such as depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, etc.) and create a treatment plan to improve their quality of life as they age.
How Geriatric Psychiatrists Help
There are many common concerns that a geriatric psychiatrist can help to address such as:
Grief and related stress over the death of a spouse, relative, or friend/neighbor
Feelings of loneliness, isolation, and lack of purpose in life
Emotional stress caused by the challenges associated with acute illnesses and other health concerns/diagnoses
Tension and anxiety experienced due to mobility issues or living conditions, including financial strains and overwhelming home maintenance
Severe depression or heightened anxiety that impacts daily life and quality of life
Intense fear of and/or anxiety over terminal illness or death
Alcohol and other types of substance abuse
Anti-social behaviors like aggression, agitation, repetitive behaviors, outbursts, and extreme mood swings (which are likely to occur in those with dementia)
Source: Aegis Living
Types of Treatments They Offer
Geriatric psychiatrists treat their patients much like a normal psychiatrist with treatment options such as medication, talk therapy, behavioral plans, etc. Due to their specialization, they are also trained to consider how the elderly person in their care would react to available treatment options and what the environment the patient lives in is like. For example, geriatric psychiatrists consider:
The type of support and care their patient has
Whether or not the patient is likely to remember to take pills if prescribed (due to cognitive impairment, for example)
Who the patient lives with (i.e. are they alone or in an assisted living facility?)
How any medication will interact with other medications the patient is currently taking
Whether or not they’d be open to talk therapy
How likely they are to stick to a plan that is prescribed
How to Start Finding Help
Today’s elderly were raised in a time when seeking mental health support was stigmatized, and they may be reluctant to accept help. It is often seen as a weakness or failure to need help from a psychiatrist. To overcome this, it’s important to address it and destigmatize it (use examples of others who have benefitted from this treatment, talk openly about their concerns, listen to them and help them come to the conclusion that it’s a positive treatment option).
To find a geriatric psychiatrist near you, search the Geriatric Mental Health Foundation’s (GMHF) database by clicking this link.
Mental health issues are largely underdiagnosed in the elderly, causing many of our older adults to needlessly suffer. If you’re concerned about an elderly loved one’s mental health, consider contacting a geriatric psychiatrist near you.
If you provide regular care to your loved one, we at CRC Orange County are here for you. We invite you to check out our library of information for family caregivers by clicking here for further reading and resources. You are also welcome to give us a call at 800-543-8312 to find out more about how we can support you in your caregiving journey.