Did you know that… 20% of adults aged 55 or older experienced some type of mental health concern, and nearly one in three do not receive the treatment needed?
With these statistics, caregivers can be aware of the emotional, physical and mental health symptoms of their elderly loved ones to make sure their loved ones receive regular check ups and preventative treatment if they are experiencing a problem.
As our loved ones’ age, it’s natural for changes to occur. A common complaint is forgetfulness or poor memory. There is a natural memory decline that can occur as one ages; however, exercising the brain is a great way to keep the mind sharp. A sedentary brain will continue to decline if not kept challenged and active. If your loved one experiences persistent cognitive struggles or memory loss, this can indicate a more serious issue.
It may not surprise you to find that the most common mental health concern among seniors is severe cognitive impairment or dementia. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, an estimated 5 million adults, 65 and older, currently have Alzheimer’s disease, which is about 11% of seniors. This can be very scary and worrisome to those that already experience anxiety and depression as this can heighten these concerns as well.
Depression and mood disorders are fairly common among the elderly. The CDC reports that 5% of seniors 65 and older reported having current depression and about 10.5% reported a diagnosis of depression at some point in their lives.
Common symptoms of depression include ongoing sadness, problems sleeping, physical pain or discomfort, distancing from activities previously enjoyed, and a general “slowing down.” Those seniors that suffer from depression generally visit ERs and doctors more frequently, take more medications, and experience longer hospital stays than their same-age peers. Women are more likely to be affected than men.
Often going along with depression, anxiety is another more prevalent mental health problem seen among seniors.
Anxiety disorders encompass a range of issues, from hoarding and obsessive-compulsive disorder to phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). About 7.6% of those over 65 have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives, says the CDC. Anxiety in seniors is thought to be underdiagnosed because older adults tend to emphasize physical problems and downplay psychiatric symptoms. Women in this age group are more likely to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder than men.
The good news is that many times both depression and anxiety can typically be successfully treated in older adults depending on the seniors health and severity of symptoms.
The Geriatric Mental Health Foundation reports that caregivers should watch for the following warning signs, and don’t hesitate to seek help if your loved one is experiencing any of the below symptoms, which could indicate a more serious issue in their elderly loved one’s mental health:
- Changes in appearance or dress, or problems maintaining the home or yard.
- Confusion, disorientation, problems with concentration or decision-making.
- Sundowning, or sundown syndrome, is a neurological phenomenon associated with increased confusion and restlessness in those with delirium or some form of dementia
- Malnutrition, poor diet, a decrease or increase in appetite; changes in weight.
- Depressed mood lasting longer than two weeks.
- Anger, agitation, or increased aggressiveness
- Obsessive-compulsive behavioral tendencies or thoughts
- Unusual behaviors or thoughts directed towards others
- Feelings of worthlessness, inappropriate guilt, helplessness; thoughts of suicide.
- Memory loss, especially recent or short-term memory problems.
- Chronic pain, physical ailments or impairments like thyroid or adrenal disease that affect emotion, thought, or memory
- Physical problems that can’t otherwise be explained: aches, constipation, etc.
- Social withdrawal; loss of interest in things that used to be enjoyable.
- Trouble handling finances or working with numbers.
- Unexplained fatigue, energy loss or sleep changes.
- Medication changes
- Major life changes
If a family member or loved one exhibits any of these symptoms, talk to your primary care physician, to determine the best way to diagnose and treat possible mental health concerns preventatively before they turn to a more serious concern.
Risk Factors for Mental Illness
One of the many continual problems with the treatment of mental illness in seniors is the fact that older adults are more likely to report physical symptoms than mental health complaints. Or they are unsure of how to describe their symptoms and it goes undiagnosed until a bigger problem is faced.
The Geriatric Mental Health Foundation lists a number of triggers for caregivers to watch in their elderly loved ones:
- Excess alcohol or substance use
- Major environmental change; such as, change of environment or downsizing to move into a nursing home or assisted living facility
- Major life change; such as, diagnosis of a severe Illness or loss of a loved one
- Dementia-causing illness (e.g. Alzheimer’s disease)
- Chronic disability or serious illness (e.g., cancer)
- Medication interactions
- Physical disability
- Physical illnesses that can affect emotion, memory and thought
- Poor diet or malnutrition
The first place to start is your family primary doctor who can help diagnosis concerns early on and create a plan for preventative treatment. If more concerns arise, the physician can recommend the next best steps and create a collaborative senior care team, recommending counseling or psychiatric services. With the combined efforts of caregiving, family, friends and mental health professionals, the elderly loved one will have a plan of active to keep the physical and mental concerns heading on the right path to healthy aging. The important part is that you do not have to do this alone and there are many willing to help.