How to Care for the Emotional Needs of the Elderly

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As people age, their emotional needs may change. Many seniors find themselves dealing with the loss of a spouse or health problems. They may not have the same support system they had when they were younger due to children moving away or retirement. Having the support of a family member who cares can make all the difference to an older person.

Talk with the older person in your family to identify needs. Listen to individual concerns. Don’t assume all elderly are lonely. Encourage the person to express their feelings and be a good listener--ask questions and don't be judgmental.

Be aware of fears. Due to medical conditions, some people lose independence as they grow older. Some elderly people may fear not being able to take care of themselves.

Many older people develop depression. Factors such as illness, death of family members and medications all contribute to depression. Don’t be afraid to ask family member if he or she is feeling depressed. Also look for signs, such as withdrawing from family and friends, mood changes, fatigue and weight loss.

Encourage new activities. Staying busy is good for both the mind and body. Learning new things can help the mind stay sharp and may improve mood. Talk with the person about their interests. Many communities have senior centers, which have daily activities such as exercise classes and art lessons.

Consider ways to decrease loneliness if your family member lives alone. Some communities offer companion services for the elderly. Workers spend time with an older person in their home, doing activities, such as playing a game, reading to the person or talking. Contact your local county health and human services department for information.

Understand the need for purpose in an elderly person's life. With their children grown and retired from their job, an elderly person may feel they are not needed. Many volunteer agencies are geared especially for senior citizens. For example, Senior Corps utilizes senior volunteers in a variety of jobs.

Visit the Elder Care Online site. It can provide information to family members on various topics related to caring for the elderly, including dealing with grief and depression.

Tips & Warnings

  • Recognize the need for professional help. Some emotional problems will need to be evaluated by a doctor or a qualified mental health professional. For example, if signs of depression persist for more than two weeks and interfere will daily activities, professional help may be needed.
  • Be aware some emotional problems in the elderly may be caused by side effects from medication and certain medical conditions. A physical may help determine if medical problems are contributing to emotional issues.

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