Worried about developing dementia while aging alone. How to get support?
February 2, 2022 9:11 AM   Subscribe

I (30s) grew up with a parent who has an undiagnosed mental illness and no insight into their condition. I don't have many close connections and I'm afraid that I might develop a similar MI or dementia and not realize I need help because there is no one there to tell me.

Since I was a kid, I've watched my parent lose their well-being to an undiagnosed MI (paranoid delusions and severe anxiety). I struggle with my own anxiety and am worried that I am predisposed to develop something similar later in life.

I'm pretty introverted. I had a few close friends, whom I've unfortunately drifted or moved away from. I am working on rekindling these friendships. I don't have a partner or any extended family in this country - due to my parent's delusions against the extended overseas family, they cut ties with them years ago. Right now, I have a job that requires a lot of socializing, but want to work towards self-employment in my future.

I'm afraid that I will develop a mental illness or dementia in the next few decades, not realize it, and have no one in my life to tell me I need help.

My parent is pretty isolated from the outside world, but they have me and their spouse to lean on (I recently moved back in to help support the situation). The illness has wrecked their life yet they absolutely refuse any kind of intervention or even assessment. I have talked to a lawyer about potential interventions if they become a danger to themselves, so there's a plan for that.

So... what if that's me in a few decades? What if I develop, say, dementia and don't have any family, friends, or employer to see the signs? To advocate for me "against my will"? To get me support before it turns into a serious situation that puts me at risk? Can I sign up for some kind of regular assessment starting in middle age? I am in Canada.
posted by MorseCold to Human Relations (8 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Have you discussed this with your primary care physician? If they can't do this as part of your annual check up, they will be able to refer you to someone who can. Good luck.
posted by coffeecat at 9:52 AM on February 2 [7 favorites]

Having a therapist might be one way of helping with this. They might have useful insight into your ongoing mental state, but also they can teach you to be more self aware of your own mental health.

I'm also the adult child of a parent with serious mental illness. Personally I found that having seen it in my parent made it much easier for me to recognise the signs in myself and say "aha this is anxiety talking! those people probably don't all really hate me!" which in turn helps me dig myself out of the funk, or have a better sense of when I might need to take myself to a professional (never needed to yet but who knows).
posted by quacks like a duck at 10:25 AM on February 2 [10 favorites]

As a person in her late 30s who is trying to plan for growing old un-partnered and childless-by-choice, and with no extended family, I've talked, semi-seriously, about working out some co-living situation a la Golden Girls in my later years with other people in my age group who may or may not be partnered or without children, so we can keep tabs on and take care of one another.

I think the best thing you can do starting now is work on building a community for yourself, whether that is a physical community where you know your neighbors well, or a social community where you form strong connections via shared interest, or spiritual community, or all of the above! Having solid bonds in your later years has a lot of emotional, social, physical and financial benefits. I too am an introvert, though a relatively social one. I don't have a ton of friends but I have managed over the last few decades of adulthood to form a good solid handful of close friends and have a budding 'community' that I intend to nurture so I'm not 'alone'. I look forward to having mutually beneficial non-traditional arrangements as an old fart. Also, I can't imagine anything better than being old and not giving a shit about what other people think and just having FUN with my friends when we are like eighty years old. Crone Island FTW.
posted by greta simone at 11:38 AM on February 2 [15 favorites]

It's good to keep a relationship going with a good therapist who you trust. Even if you don't feel you need "therapy" right now. That just means there's no rush you can shop around and get the relationship just right. Maybe you just have a monthly appointment with them to check in. It's a good thing to do for anyone, in general, to have a standing time & place to get things off your chest. And especially in your case maybe it would put your mind at ease to know there's a trained professional who it's their job to notice if something's not right and who knows how to help.
posted by bleep at 12:41 PM on February 2

I've been thinking a lot about aging, and aging well, as I watch my parents age. In some ways they are doing okay, but there are things they didn't really anticipate. I have kids, but I don't want to presume that they'll be available to tend to me. So I'm trying to figure out how to do this as well as possible. I'm in my 40s.

First, work to create the life now that you think will benefit you as you age, because that's probably the life that will benefit you now. I mean this for physical and mental health. (If I want to walk to the grocery store when I'm 80, I certainly need to be doing it now!) I also want to make sure I live someplace where I don't have to drive because there's a good chance I won't always be able to drive. Can I get to the store, the library, etc?

And in particular, think about this in terms of community. Close friends who live far away might not be able to notice this sort of thing, but what about looser connections with neighbors? I live in a pretty conventional in-town US neighborhood. I have thought about what it might mean to move into a co-housing situation, where there's more intermingling of folks even as they have separate homes and apartments. So part of this is trying to be intentional about an array of loose connections, not just intimate partners or close friendships. So, yes, like what greta simone said above.
posted by bluedaisy at 12:50 PM on February 2 [1 favorite]

I think if you are open to being honest with yourself and facing unpleasant truths, you will be aware of the warning signs that something is not right in your brain before you reach the point that you will be a danger to yourself. It is easier if you also have friends in your life who will notice things and be honest with you but if you show a willingness to hear these messages, it doesn't have to someone as close to you as a spouse to start the conversation.

So, the work is to cultivate a mindset that faces the world with honesty - not fear, not denial but recognizing what is, even if you don't like it, accepting the facts and then dealing with it. The second skill is being willing to ask for help - from friends or professionals when you need it since holding on to independence is one of the biggest obstacles to getting support.

Fortunately life offers lots of challenges where you can practice these skills so you will be mentally and emotionally prepared for dealing the challenges of aging as they come.

My in-laws, who are good at facing reality, had a sticker that said "Old age is not for sissies". It takes courage but with courage you can create a much better life for yourself than hiding behind denial.
posted by metahawk at 1:01 PM on February 2 [3 favorites]

You might talk to an estate and probate lawyer. One of the services they provide is medical power of attorney, which would enable them to make decisions on your behalf for care and treatment if you were deemed unable to make them yourself.
posted by ananci at 3:31 PM on February 2

You note that you're working on rekindling lost friendships, and that your job requires socialising. These are very good things for you to do if you are worried about dementia, because regular social contact is recognised as a preventative factor. You imply that in moving to self-employment, you may reduce your level of social contact? I recommend joining organisations or groups that would provide structure, regular contact and where you might feel a commitment to keep participating: volunteering, team sport, social dance, theatre, anything at all where there's a regular time commitment and people will miss you if you aren't there. If such a group also provides exercise (another preventative factor) or intellectual challenge (a book group!) so much the better. And you can always join more than one. Finally, making contacts through regular group attendance is the first step to making new friends, and a steady supply of new friends is necessary to mitigate the ongoing loss of old ones as we age.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 8:15 PM on February 2

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