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Home for the Holidays

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December and the start of the New Year are perfect times to assess the mental health and wellness of family members. Inspecting living conditions, making discreet inquiries about finances, and probing social connections can help in determining physiological and psychological health. These simple observations can identify the onset of a number of behavioral, cognitive, or mental health risks. Seniors residing in soiled cluttered environments – knowingly or unknowingly are ofttimes slow to recognize the risk. Unclean bathrooms and kitchens are subject to mold, mildew, and insect infestations. Cluttered rooms and hordes of magazines and newspapers can lead to fires; blocked navigation from room to room or impassable stairs can lead to falls and serious injury. Research shows most seniors are aware of these dangers, however, the onset of mental or behavioral disorders prevents them from acknowledging the problem or taking action. Loneliness, isolation, anxiety, and stress often arise from, or are strongly related to, health, wellness, and living environment. The Improving Lives Counseling Services’ team of professionals offer senior and home-bound mental health screenings.

The caregiver or family member checking on a loved one on a regular basis often becomes unsuspecting. Because they see them every day and have an established routine, they fail to recognize vulnerabilities to mail, media, and telephone predators or sense a change in cognitive or behavioral activity. Not because they don’t care, or are failing as caregiver, but because they are too close to the situation, as often the case in caring for family members. Friends and immediate or extended family who visit occasionally or only on holidays are more apt at noticing mental and/or behavioral changes.

Elderly hoarding, a common problem among seniors, creates a toxic environment – for the hoarder and other “residing” family members. This toxicity is most associated with compulsive disorders, attention-deficit disorders, chronic anxiety, chronic stress, and depression, both in the hoarder and in family members. Rejection of social standards can become unrecognizable or easily missed by longtime caregivers, particularly if the loved one has experienced loss of support from a loved one or isolation due to bereavement and/or forced retirement or relocation. Changes in hygiene, grooming, and food intake affect self-care which is defined as: “Any necessary regulatory function which is under individual control, deliberate and self-initiated.”

Addressing concerns with caregivers can be challenging. Addressing concerns with seniors or the home-bound more so. “You’re not here and I am,” is often heard from caregivers. “There’s nothing wrong with my mind”, “I just got busy”, and “I can take care of myself” is heard from care-receivers. Improving Lives Counseling Services can help with the conversation. Our trained counselors and therapists can provide the tools needed to initiate and civilly (un-offensively) engage in these conversations.

If you are spending the holidays with loved ones you don’t see regularly, or are visiting those living alone, are home-bound, or in self-care situations in assisted living environments, look for the signs. Early diagnosis of mental health, behavioral, or cognitive disorders – and the identifying of underlying diseases, can halt the progress, provide access to treatment, and save lives. Make your holiday or seasonal visit special. Ask the right open-ended questions, know the difference in rehearsed and factual responses and have the tools needed to keep the conversation going. You have a very important role. Be prepared. Call us to learn more.