Aging parents and mental health: can't we do better?

Aging parents and mental health: can’t we do better?

It is now well understood that the pandemic has had adverse effects on mental health, particularly among school-aged children. But officials noted that isolated seniors were also suffering greatly. Our elders are the most vulnerable to Covid and have had to stay away from those they love due to the risk of life-threatening infection. Those who have survived the worst of the pandemic, the risk still not entirely gone, are still paying the price of being alone for so long.

Social isolation is a well-documented problem that is associated with poor health outcomes, premature death, and increased risk of dementia. We evolved in tribes and seem to be wired to need connection and association with others. Granted, there are loners who don’t seem to need the company of others very much, but that’s not most people. The result of social isolation, necessary as it was to prevent the spread of a life-threatening bout of Covid, has left its mark. Depression may be more common than ever. And aging parents may not be likely to seek treatment for depression, as their generation seems to have a general bias against mental health treatment. They said, “I’m not crazy. I don’t need to see a therapist. Or “I don’t believe in that stuff”. In short, they resist the idea that a therapist can help them.

Symptoms of Depression

Depression manifests itself in many ways. In our aging loved ones, we may see a loss of interest in once pleasurable activities. They look sad. They don’t want to participate. We may see significant weight gain or loss and changes in eating habits. There may be sleep disturbances. Some people with depression become irritable, angry, or even withdraw from simple conversations. For their families, this can be very frustrating. You see that something is wrong but you don’t know what to do.


One thing about mental health help has definitely changed during the pandemic. In other words, health insurers have become more willing to pay for telemedicine. This includes psychological help. Previously, they refused to pay for anything other than in-person visits to a therapist. From now on, insurers reimburse therapists for telemedicine, in videotherapy visits. It can help. A recurring problem, however, is that the most experienced mental health care providers are not paid by insurers at market rates, and some refuse to accept insurance altogether. Some will not accept Medicare payment. It means paying out of pocket for therapy. Some can afford it, some can’t.

Imagine you have an aging parent who seems listless and looks very down these days. You think your loved one is depressed. What can you say? What can you do?


When you approach some primary care physicians about depression in an aging parent, they are usually ready and willing to prescribe antidepressant medication. These medications can help control symptoms well, but they don’t address the underlying causes of depression. Finding them out requires a mental health provider to talk to about what’s going on. Antidepressant medications work best when combined with regular talk therapy visits.

How do you convince someone to see a therapist?

The tough ones won’t go, even if you think they really need it. For others, who may be on the fence, you can help by researching an experienced therapist who treats depression in the elderly. Your aging parent’s primary care physician can be a good referral source. Most therapists will speak to a potential client on the phone before scheduling an appointment, to try to determine if they are a good fit for each other. Different personalities and styles of therapy are important. If you find a therapist who might work well with your aging loved one, you can describe what you like about that person to your senior and encourage them to try it. Finding the right therapist is not that easy. If you do some research before suggesting this, it can really help a senior who may not know where to start.


According to the American Psychological Association, approximately 75% of people who undergo therapy experience some benefit from it. These are good odds. When a person is depressed, they may feel hopeless and helpless. A good therapist can help turn this in a better direction. If you think your aging relative is depressed, whether it’s due to pandemic-related isolation or not, consider that help is available. Encourage him. Research to find the right person. This can significantly improve your loved one’s quality of life.

#Aging #parents #mental #health

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