Conversations about the mental health of older adults frequently revolve around two things: Alzheimer’s and dementia.
While it makes sense that cognitive disorders such as these would occupy a prominent place in the public imagination, the picture they paint of the mental health challenges encountered in old age is nowhere near complete. Of the many losses that befall us in later stages of life, memory is only one. Mobility, normal functioning, friends and family—the list goes on, as do accompanying feelings of isolation, loneliness, and grief.
If left unattended, the growing pains of growing old can dig deep and fester, eventually developing into depression, anxiety, or substance abuse. Older adults need people in their lives who know them well enough to detect the beginnings of a downward spiral and care enough to pull them out. Home care workers, by virtue of providing services regularly and in situ, are uniquely positioned to take on this task.
Many home care workers are ill equipped to detect and discuss the mental health symptoms of their older patients. It’s not that they’re not capable—far from it. Rather, a lack of designated overlap between home care and mental health systems leaves them critically unsupported.
Originally published on Forbes (January 17, 2020)