Home Health & Wellness Seniors Residing in California Assisted Living Facilities Do Not Always Get Proper Mental Health Attention

Seniors Residing in California Assisted Living Facilities Do Not Always Get Proper Mental Health Attention

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For most people with aging relatives, the list of requirements for an assisted living facility is pretty simple. Things like comfortable accommodations, a healthy and varied menu, and well-trained staff are usually near the top. However, one thing that’s often neglected is the importance of mental health care for seniors. Even in properly run assisted living facilities, residents can suffer from loneliness, depression, and more from the simple fact that they feel disconnected from their families and former lives. 

For those in the San Diego area looking for an assisted living facility, the path to finding the perfect place should start by compiling a list of assisted living homes in San Diego. Then, they should compare the options against their requirements – and hopefully, those requirements would include programs or staff training to promote good mental health for residents.

Why is it important to monitor mental health among nursing home residents?

According to the NIH (National Institutes of Health), 65%–91% of assisted living residents have some type of mental disorder. This could include anything from anxiety to bipolar disorder, and usually has serious effects on the person’s quality of life. Data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services gives us a closer look at these mental disorders, specifically for nursing home residents in California. In 2015,

  • 22.2% of residents had anxiety-related disorders
  • 34.4% of residents suffered from depression
  • 10.9% of residents had schizophrenia
  • 4.6% of residents had bipolar disorder

Given these findings, it’s especially important to pay attention to the mental health of your elderly loved ones. Nursing home staff usually aren’t trained to monitor (much less care for) the mental or emotional needs of residents. Instead, they’re trained to focus on the residents’ physical well-being by administering medication, helping with self-care tasks, assisting during mealtime, etc.

To make things more complicated, some symptoms of declining mental health mirror the aging process. Decreased activity or appetite, increased sleep, and a general lack of interest are often thought to be typical for someone who’s getting on in years. To a staff member, these things are practically expected. To a family member, however, they can be indicators that something isn’t right.

Seniors deserve high-quality healthcare from their assisted living facility, and that should include care for their mental health. Unfortunately, they often don’t know how to advocate for themselves; that’s why it’s so important for family members to watch out for behavioral changes that could indicate a developing problem. 

What causes declining mental health for residents of California assisted living facilities?

There are numerous reasons why someone would be unhappy in a nursing home. For many, it boils down to feelings of loss – loss of independence, loss of their usual hobbies and activities, loss of familiar surroundings, and so on. However, there are several other reasons why this could happen.

  • Stress due to tight finances
  • Loneliness and social isolation
  • Medication errors
  • Medical conditions
  • Malnutrition
  • Loss of mobility
  • Lack of control regarding lifestyle choices
  • Grief after losing a loved one
  • Declining mental capacity
  • Chronic pain
  • Elder abuse or neglect

What are the symptoms of anxiety for nursing home residents?

According to a study from the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, it’s common for elderly adults in assisted living facilities to experience anxiety disorders. If your loved one starts having the following symptoms, they may be struggling with anxiety.

  • Sleep disturbances
  • Restlessness
  • Muscle tension
  • Fear of injury from falling
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Depressive symptoms
  • Avoidance

Sadly, a lot of these symptoms are just considered par for the course among nursing home residents. Because they’re in an unfamiliar environment, and of an age to need assistance for everyday tasks, it’s assumed that they’ll also have issues with sleeping, moving around, etc. Plus, with each nurse being in charge of several residents at once, staff members may not take notice of anxiety symptoms in the same way that a family member could. If nobody takes these symptoms seriously, the resident’s anxiety could go untreated and even get worse over time. This will obviously affect their mental health, but it will probably also affect their physical health as well.

What are the symptoms of depression for nursing home residents?

Depression is something that can be experienced at almost any age, and can range from mild to severe. This is one thing that makes it so hard to detect. For some people, depression can lead to a loss of appetite; for others, it can lead to increased cravings for comfort food. This is why it’s crucial to know the most common symptoms of depression, especially the ones that can be seen in elderly loved ones.

  • Loss of appetite
  • A sudden increase in appetite
  • Repeated thoughts of death
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Slowness in speech or movements
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of interest in activities that they used to enjoy
  • Restlessness
  • Feelings of helplessness, guilt, or hopelessness
  • A mood that’s persistently sad or anxious
  • Feelings of numbness

Everyone with depression experiences it differently, so it’s unlikely that someone with depression would have every symptom on this list. Rather, these are the symptoms that are most commonly described by those with depression. When looking out for signs of depression, it can also be helpful to remember these depression risk factors:

  • Alcoholism or addiction
  • Functional limitations that prevent someone from participating in daily life
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Loneliness or social isolation
  • Sleep problems
  • Stress (including stress coming from those around them)
  • Genetic factors
  • Medical conditions, such as cancer or a stroke

Keep in mind that while these factors have been linked to depression, they haven’t been shown to cause depression. It can happen for no clear reason, or can be linked to temporary circumstances or sudden changes.

Looking out for your loved one by finding the right assisted living facility in California

Pretty much every California assisted living facility claims to provide a safe, enriching experience for their residents – but do they really measure up to their own claims? This will depend on the facility. If you want to ensure that your loved one will end up in a place they’ll love, don’t be shy about asking questions. A top-notch assisted living facility will be open about their standards, programs, training policies, and more. This will help everyone make a decision they can feel good about, and give both you and your loved one peace of mind.


Tim Williamson, a psychology graduate from the University of Hertfordshire, has a keen interest in the fields of mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.

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