Is Caring For Aging Parents Making You Anxious?

I’ve just been talking to colleagues here in Marin County about helping to educate our community about anxiety, a problem that affects so many.  Here is some information we’ve gathered to put on our local Psychological Association site to help everyone get a better understanding about anxiety.

counseling_136_132Anxiety, according to the American Psychological Association, is  an emotion that creates feelings of tension, worry, and increased blood pressure.

Does this sound familiar?  Many adult children caring for aging loved ones feel that tension and worry.  They may also have penetrating, recurring thoughts. These recurring thoughts and worries can arise from day to day activities or specific events. Anxiety can physically manifest itself in symptoms like sweating, rapid heartbeat, dizziness, and trembling.

When these symptoms are extreme, a person might feel that she is suffering from a heart attack. Psychologists might call the more pronounced forms of anxiety a disorder that needs care and treatment. Those suffering from the more severe form of anxiety may find it challenging to accomplish even the simplest of tasks for fear that something bad may happen to them or the possibility that something might go wrong. They have trouble staying in the moment or living for now.   They  focus on the “what if” scenarios. They complain that they can’t turn off racing thoughts through the mind that evoke a sense of panic. Besides the negative emotional toll on the mind that anxiety can take, the physical residual effects are detrimental as well.  Symptoms might include weight loss, weight gain, hair loss, and stomach discomfort, back or other pain.
Excessive, irrational fear and dread are hallmarks of a problem that can benefit greatly from treatment.  The good news is that there are many good treatment options for anxiety. One treatment option that clinical psychologists offer is called cognitive behavioral therapy. This technique helps a person change the connection between specific thoughts and their irrational fear and dread. The ability to self-monitor one’s own  thoughts can help the person gain control over their emotions. This directly aids in stopping the perpetuation of anxiety or depressive feelings.

In addition, psychologists help people learn breathing and relaxation techniques that can be used to eliminate, manage and assuage anxiety. In some cases especially when anxiety has been present in a patient’s life for many years, medications maybe the best way to provide rapid relieve of emotional symptoms.  Newer anti-depressive mediations called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI’s) are often used as a first line of defense in the treatment of anxiety disorders. People often report experiencing less anxiety and improved mood from taking these medications within two to four weeks.

It is critical to understand that medications do not cure anxiety or anxiety depressive disorders.  Professional treatment (“psychotherapy”) is needed to develop new coping methods, along with a deeper understanding of the complex workings of one’s mind. Once a person learns the techniques, successful alternative action strategies can assure and sustain ongoing changes for the better.

The heavy pressures of caring for aging parents in declining health, the rising demands on one’s time and the sadness of seeing a parent get worse over time can make anyone anxious. If the symptoms you are feeling are getting in the way of doing what you need to do in your life, don’t wait to get professional help. The problem is likely to only get worse over time.

Anxiety is often irrational and cannot be treated logically. Many people do not truly understand anxiety disorder, and think they can just will themselves to be cured. Or maybe the anxiety symptoms will just magically go away if they try to no longer think about them. Most people can’t cure themselves. There is no need to suffer when help from a professional can relieve the emotional pain.  If these symptoms sound like what you are feeling, reach out.  You can find a professional to help you through your local Mental Health Association or your insurance provider.  Low cost services are available in many counties for those who do not have insurance or who are low income.

If your aging parent worries are getting you down and you need advice and support, contact me at drmikol@gmail.com

Is Dad OK? What is clinical depression?

Is Dad OK? What is clinical depression?

Depressed-Man.jpgClinical depression is the most common of mental conditions, which can be treated, but among elderly aging parents, it is one of the most overlooked. Sometimes, it’s because physicians don’t recognize the signs and symptoms. Sometimes it’s because of an overall attitude of society that perhaps feeling low is just part of getting old. The danger in overlooking clinical depression is twofold.

First, quality of life that could be improved isn’t, and unnecessary suffering goes on.

Second, the alarming fact of elder suicide looms. Clinical depression is both an emotional occurrence and a physical event. The physical component is triggered by brain chemistry, and can be helped.

Feeling low doesn’t have to be a permanent part of getting older. There are many elderly aging parents who are able to take aging in stride, and accept the many limitations that accompany getting along in years. Aging is frequently marked by losses. Loss of spouses, siblings and friends, as well as losses of physical strength and abilities can lead to sadness. The sadness associated with loss can often be lessened with time. But what if Dad, who lost his wife last year, just doesn’t seem to care about anything anymore? If more than a year has passed since loss of a spouse, and an aging parent still seems unable to move forward, it may to be time to see the doctor for a checkup.
If you are able to accompany Dad to the doctor, mention the problem specifically. Loss of enjoyment of things one normally likes is one of the symptoms of clinical depression. Other symptoms include feeling sad for extended periods, loss of appetite, sleeping too much or not enough, eating too much, difficulty making decisions, steady weight loss, or unusual weight gain, irritability, outbursts of temper which are not normal, and withdrawal from friends and family.
Clinical depression is one of the most treatable of all mental health problems. Many excellent medications can make a great difference in one’s mood and ability to participate in life. Counseling or talk therapy can also be a great help in managing feelings of loss and grief and in helping an aging parent to get through the grieving process.
If Dad is just not getting back to the way he was, and has an alarmingly long, ongoing period of sad mood and other symptoms, encourage him to see his doctor. Plan to go with him to be sure he doesn’t gloss over the problem. Many elders are unaccustomed to talking about their feelings. They may lack the basic vocabulary to describe them. The adult child can offer gentle assistance with this difficult area. If unchecked, clinical depression can become a downward spiral with no end. It can become worse and more miserable for the depressed person as time passes.
Addressing clinical depression in an aging parent can lead to relief, and improved quality of life. It is a loving act to suggest that the problem can be improved. It may take the initiative of a son or daughter to get help for Dad, but the effect of help if well worth your effort.

THE TEN RED FLAGS

Do you or a loved one experience any of these symptoms on a persistent basis?
1. Persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness and emptiness
2. Feelings of worthlessness and guilt
3. Loss of interest in activities that used to be fun and rewarding
4. Lack of energy
5. Sleeping too much or too little,
6. Eating too much or too little
7. Poor concentration and focus
8. Irritability and restlessness
9. Persistent physical aches and pains, such as headaches, stomach problems
10. Wish to die or thoughts of suicide or self-harm

If you or a loved one experiences any of these symptoms, you should consider consulting with your physician and a mental health provider.

Dr. Mikol S. Davis, Psychologist