Mental Illness and Disorganization

In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month this May, I would like to share some information about the link between mental illness and disorganization/hoarding.

Many individuals with mental illnesses also have issues with disorganization. This is primarily because the area of the brain most often affected by mental illness is the Central Executive. The CE is the primary area for planning future actions, initiating retrieval and decision processes, and integrating information coming into the system, all necessary for successfully organizing.

Disorders that can arise from a faulty CE are depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), learning disabilities, compulsive disorganization, and hoarding.

To clarify, disorganization is not the same as clutter. Clutter can also be thought of as messiness whereas disorganization is broader. Disorganization is a lack of basic categorization accompanied by excessive clutter.

The Institute for Challenging Disorganization defines chronic disorganization using three criteria: having a past history of disorganization in which self-help efforts to change have failed, an undermining of your current quality of life due to disorganization, and an expectation of future disorganization.

Sometimes, we all suffer from faulty CE functioning, especially where time management, attention and switching focus is concerned. Ways to help CE include: organizing workspace, minimizing clutter, and creating “to do” checklists.

When dealing with your own or someone else’s clutter and disorganization, it’s important to approach with compassion. Staying organized and relatively clutter free is difficult for everyone at some point in time. Compassion will create a nurturing environment in which to learn good organizing skills.

10 Safety Tips for the Elderly during the Icy Winter Months

Winter Safety Tips for Seniors

Remember the excitement you felt as a kid when you got a snow day?!  Your imagination went wild as you fantasized about the snow fort you would make next to your perfect snow man.

Unfortunately as we age, snow days become less exciting and more of an inconvenience, and sometimes even dangerous.  Making sure your car starts, getting someone to look after the kids (who are overjoyed at staying home from school), keeping the house warm without breaking the bank, trying to get to work without getting into an accident with that jerk in the SUV who always travels way too fast in bad weather…

If you have an elderly family member that you care for, the weather causes an even bigger issue as they are at greater risk in snowy conditions and freezing temperatures. Slipping on ice, Winter depression, nutritional deficiency and even carbon monoxide poisoning are major concerns for the elderly during the icy winter months.

Here are 10 safety tips to assist your elderly loved one during the winter season:

1. Set up grocery or (better yet) pre-made meals delivery service

This will ensure that your loved one has the food they need on a regular basis and will take some of the strain off you. Make sure that they are eating a varied diet rich in Vitamin D so as to avoid a deficiency from lack of exposure to the sun. Proteins like salmon, tuna, mackerel, beef liver and egg yolks, dairy products like milk and cheese, and certain grains and cereals are all Vitamin D rich foods that can prevent any nutritional deficits.

2. Hire a service or young neighbors to shovel or snow blow your family member’s driveway and sidewalks if there’s a storm

Preventing slips and falls is crucial for the elderly in icy conditions. The older you get the more fragile your muscles and bones become, and one small slip could cause major injuries requiring extensive and painful surgery.

3. Make sure their furnace is in working order and turned on

Have a service come out to check the furnace (before there’s an issue) to make sure it’s in working order. Also check the carbon monoxide detector and replace the batteries if necessary.

4. Connect with your loved one’s neighbors

Exchange information with them so that if you’re not able to get to your elderly loved one due to weather conditions, you can contact them to check in on your loved one.

5. Ask younger neighbors if they would mind checking the mail every few days

This will enable your family member to stay inside and avoid the possibility of falling and breaking a hip on the ice.

6. Put a list of emergency numbers on their refrigerator

Include contact numbers for non-emergency police, fire, immediate relatives and neighbors.

7. Create an emergency plan

If you are unable to get to your loved one during a severe winter storm, create a plan that includes who will check in on your loved one during the storm, where they will go in case of a power outage and who will be in charge of coordinating and implementing the plan. Make sure there are working flashlights with extra batteries and warm blankets around the house in case of a power outage.

8. Encourage fluid intake

Heating a home can cause the house to become dry and cause dehydration.  Pick up some bottled water to keep in their fridge. Remind them that sugary drinks, caffeine, and alcohol act as diuretics so interchanging those fluids with water is important.

9. Encourage your elderly loved one to wear layers and avoid going outside if at all possible

If they must go outside, ensure that they wear rubber soled boots/shoes for traction, and use an adaptive device such as a 3 prong cane for support.

10. Look out for Winter Depression in your elderly loved one

The cold and isolation can lead to depression, so it’s important to make regular contact with your loved one, and ask neighbors, friends and other family members to do the same. Regularly check in on elderly relatives, friends and neighbors in person if possible. If you live far away, contact another relative, neighbor or someone from their local church/synagogue who can stop by and check on them.

Read more on Depression in the elderly here:

Written by Author and Keynote Speaker Sue Salach-Cutler. Sue has a Master’s degree in Gerontology and has worked in the healthcare field for over 25 years.  She is the Author of “Along Comes Grandpa”, a caregiving resource guide, and the novel “If I Walked in Her Shoes”. Her programs and books provide the vital resources needed to help family caregivers as they maneuver through the caregiving journey. Find out more about her books and programs here: CaregiverLife.com. Adapted from: https://theworkingcaregiver.org

Depression: Top Mental Health Threat to Seniors

Depression - Top Mental Health Risk to SeniorsDepression is NOT an inevitable part of aging. Changes that accompany later life – retirement, the death of loved ones, increased isolation, medical problems – can sometimes lead to mental health issues like depression. Depression prevents elderly loved ones from enjoying life. Aside from mood, depression impacts energy, sleep, appetite, and physical health.

Depression in later life frequently coexists with other medical illnesses and disabilities. Because of changes in an elderly person’s circumstances and the fact that elderly people are expected to slow down, doctors and family members may miss the signs of depression. Depression tends to last longer in elderly adults. It doubles their risk of cardiac diseases and increases their risk of death from illness. At the same time, depression reduces an elderly person’s ability to rehabilitate. Also see Late Life Depression, Late-onset Depression and Dementia

In order to pro-actively provide support it helps to be able to recognize the signs of depression in an elderly person, such as expressing feelings of hopelessness or sadness that don’t go away and loss of interest in activities they previously enjoyed.

Causes and risk factors that contribute to depression in the elderly include:

  • Loneliness and isolation – Living alone; a dwindling social circle due to deaths or relocation; decreased mobility due to illness or loss of driving privileges.
  • Diminished sense of purpose – Feelings of purposelessness or loss of identity due to retirement or physical limitations on activities.
  • Health problems – Illness and disability; chronic or severe pain; cognitive decline (dementia/alzheimer’s); damage to body image due to surgery or disease.
  • Medications – Many prescription medications can trigger or exacerbate depression.
  • Fears – Fear of death or dying; anxiety over financial problems or health issues.
  • Recent bereavement – The death of friends, family members, and pets; the loss of a spouse or partner.

Here are some steps recommended by HelpGuide.org that can help your loved one overcome the symptoms, no matter the challenges they face:

  • Encourage them to learn new skills, try new activities, or make fresh lifestyle changes. The human brain never stops changing, so older adults are just as capable as younger people of learning new things and adapting to new ideas.
  • Exercise. Physical activity has powerful mood-boosting effects. In fact, research suggests it may be just as effective as antidepressants in relieving depression. Even if they are ill, frail, or disabled, there are many safe exercises they can do to build strength and boost their mood—even from a chair or wheelchair.
  • Facilitate opportunities to connect with others, face to face whenever possible. Getting the support they need plays a big role in lifting the fog of depression and keeping it away. If you cannot get them out to socialize, invite loved ones to visit them or keep in touch over the phone or email.
  • Maintain a healthy diet. Avoid eating too much sugar and junk food. Encourage healthy foods that provide nourishment and energy, as well as taking a daily multivitamin.
  • Foster participation in activities they enjoy. Pursue whatever hobbies or pastimes that bring or used to bring them joy.
  • Encourage them to Volunteer. Helping others is one of the best ways to feel better and expand their social network.
  • Create opportunities to laugh. Laughter provides a mood boost, so swap humorous stories and jokes with your loved ones, watch a comedy, or read a funny book.

Make sure they get a checkup with their doctor and talk to their pharmacist regarding drug side effects and/or interactions, as symptoms of depression can also occur as part of medical problems such as dementia or as a side effect of prescription drugs.  Watch for suicide warning signs. Seek immediate professional help if you suspect that your loved one is thinking about suicide.

There is help for seniors who are dealing with depression. Be open about asking for professional help. There are experts who deal with these issues and know how to help. For more information visit Helpguide.org

Also see:

For other helpful caregiving resources visit AlongComesGrandpa.com

Written by Author and Keynote Speaker Sue Salach-Cutler. Sue has a Master’s degree in Gerontology and has worked in the healthcare field for over 25 years.  She is the Author of “Along Comes Grandpa”, a caregiving resource guide, and the novel “If I Walked in Her Shoes”. Her programs and books provide the vital resources needed to help family caregivers as they maneuver through the caregiving journey. Find out more about her books and programs here: CaregiverLife.com.  Adapted from: https://theworkingcaregiver.org