The Challenges of Aging – Handling the Physical, Mental, and Emotional Changes in Your Parents

October 09, 2015


Caring for an elderly parent can be one of the most daunting tasks that an adult child will ever face. A basic understanding of the challenges during this phase of life – and how to address them – can help both the adult child and the parent.

Physical signs of aging

According to, older adults experience at least a mild decline in:

  • Visual and verbal memory
  • Immediate memory, or the ability to name objects
  • Hearing loss
  • Increased frailty of the body
  • Diminished sleep
  • Changes in appetite and energy level

In most cases, the adult child will have no problem recognizing these issues. If the parent dismisses or disputes the changes, the caregiver should consider turning to the parent’s physician to validate his or her observations and determine what type of treatment to pursue.

Emotional, mental signs of aging

A common health challenge among many seniors is depression. According to the Geriatric Mental Health Foundation:

  • Depression is a treatable medical illness that impacts more than 6 million of the more than 40 million Americans over age 65.
  • An estimated 6 percent of people ages 65 and older in a given year, or approximately 2 million individuals in this age group, have a diagnosable depressive illness.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), symptoms of depression in the elderly include:

  • Memory problems
  • Confusion
  • Social withdrawal
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Vague complaints of pain
  • Inability to sleep
  • Irritability
  • Delusions (fixed false beliefs)
  • Hallucinations

The Institute on Aging notes that:

Older women are more likely than older men to report that they are depressed. In one study, 16 percent of women reported being depressed compared with 11 percent of men (2008).

The prevalence of depression increases with age. In 2008, the proportion of people age 65-plus with clinically relevant symptoms was higher for those 85-plus (18 percent) than for people in any of the younger groups (12 to 15 percent).

The percentage of men 85-plus (19 percent) reporting clinically relevant depressive symptoms was almost twice that of any younger men (about 10 percent).

According to the Geriatric Mental Health Foundation, depression manifests itself in numerous ways, including:

  • Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
  • Withdrawing from regular social activities
  • Pacing and fidgeting
  • Feeling worthless or helpless
  • Weight/appearance changes or frequent tearfulness
  • Thoughts of suicide or death

Unlike the physical changes associated with aging, emotional and mental signs of aging can be more difficult to detect. Some, such as difficulty sleeping or concentrating, are also associated with physical changes. Since an aging parent may not realize he or she is undergoing an emotional/mental crisis, the adult child must monitor the parent’s behavior. If there’s any cause for concern, the adult child shouldn’t hesitate to seek professional help on behalf of the parent.

If you are an adult child who is responsible for the well-being of your aging parent, know that you are not alone. Don’t hesitate to take advantage of the many resources such as friends and other family member; medical professionals; community agencies; and a wealth of information available online and in print.

For more information on the challenges of aging, download the “Parent Care Guide.”

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