9 Tips for Caring for an Individual with Bipolar Disorder

Jun 20, 2016

9 Tips for Caring for an Individual with Bipolar Disorder

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Becoming the primary caregiver to an older loved one can be both rewarding and frustrating, and caring for an older loved one who is battling a mental disorder can be even tougher.

As we age, our bodies change, often resulting in loss of sight, physical handicaps, and illnesses like dementia. One late-onset disorder that is as commonly mentioned is Bipolar disorder. While most individuals that are diagnosed with Bipolar disorder are between the ages of 20 and 40, late-onset Bipolar disorder doesn’t appear in most individuals until their 60’s.

Bipolar disorder, also referred to as Manic Depression, comes with varying moods and emotions and can be quite tiresome, not only for the individual suffering from the disorder but also those caring for them. 

9 Ways to Help Your Loved One with Bipolar Disorder

1. Teach yourself about the disorder

Educating yourself on Bipolar disorder is the best thing you can do for yourself and the individual you’re caring for. Try to understand all of the symptoms of the manic and depression phases, as well as medications and more.

2. Understand the individual’s medications

Learn everything that you are able to about your loved one’s medications. What are the side effects? What’s the dosage? At what frequency should you be taking the medication? What will happen if your loved one stops taking the medication (signs, symptoms, etc.)?

3. Don’t take anything personally

Generally, Bipolar disorder comes with two main phases – mania and depression. While complete opposites, both phases come with negative side effects that can alter your loved one’s mood and personality. There will likely be times where your loved one says rude, mean or hurtful things that they don’t mean. Try not to take anything personally if this happens.

4. Have a friend or family member help out

Caregiving, in general, can be tiring, and even feel defeating some days, and caring for a loved one with Bipolar disorder is no easy feat. Ask for help some days from a trusted friend or family member. Having even one free day a week can really help!

5. Take notes on what you observe

This is helpful for you, your loved one and their physician. Have you been noticing a particular mood or behavior? Does your loved one act differently after a specific medication? Keeping note of these observations will help you learn how to act with your loved one, and help their physician treat and manage their symptoms in the most effective way.

6. Make a plan for the day

This will help keep a sense of normalcy through both primary phases of Bipolar disorder. If the individual ALWAYS gets up and has breakfast at a certain time, they’ll be more inclined to do this even on the days that they don’t want to get out of bed, and so on. This will not always work, but many people report that it helped restore their loved one’s desire to participate in life, even on bad days.

7. Ask the individual if they would like help with anything

We all have days where it feels like we can’t get anything done, and for those battling a mental disorder, these days come along a lot more often. This can be frustrating and increase the likelihood of having a bad episode. Similarly, your loved one might be scared to ask for help, in fear that it proves that they are not capable of doing it themselves. If you offer help, they’ll be more inclined to accept it.

8. Take care of yourself

Make sure you are eating a balanced diet, getting adequate amounts of sleep, and exercising daily – even if it’s just a quick walk. Taking care of yourself will help you better prepare for whatever challenges you’ll face day to day. It’s easy to push yourself to the backburner when so much of your day is spent caring for someone else, but if you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to continue caring for your loved one.

9. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from a physician or medical professional

Physicians prescribe your loved one medicine, and likely know the disorder and their individual symptoms very well. If the disorder seems particularly bad one week, reach out for help. Physicians, therapists or other medical professionals are there for you every step of the way.

Caring for a loved one with Bipolar disorder can be a challenge, but it can still be rewarding for both parties.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What treatments are available for LOBD?

Some of the most commonly prescribed medications for bipolar disorder are lithium carbonate and valproic acid (Depakote). Antidepressants may also be prescribed, however, their usage is not without risk. Again, since the causes of LOBD are still somewhat unknown, there have been debates within the medical community as to which method of treatment is the most effective. 

Electroconvulsive Therapy: This treatment is sometimes used for patients who are severely depressed or manic, and who do not respond well to medications. This can be a quick and efficient way to help people who are at a high risk for attempting suicide. The procedure involves inducing a grand mal seizure lasting less than one minute by the use of electrodes placed on the scalp. 

Although the method lost public credibility following distorted and negative portrayals in 1960’s media coverage, modern procedures have been shown as both safe and effective.

Vagus or Vagal Nerve Stimulation (VNS): Involves a small device implanted into the vagus nerve in order to mitigate depressive symptoms.

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS): A small electromagnetic coil treats the symptoms of depression by stimulating nerves in the mood centers of the brain.

Light Therapy: For people suffering from bipolar disorder and seasonal affective disorder, sitting under a special light box capable of emitting full-spectrum light can help to treat depressive symptoms associated with the changes in weather.

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What are some of the causes of late-onset bipolar disorder?

The causes of late-onset bipolar disorder are not known, however, researchers believe that a number of factors may contribute to the disorder. Some of these include genetics, neurological or cognitive disorders, and environmental factors.

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