Both family members and elderly care providers should be aware of the symptoms of mental illness for the elderly person. Do you ever wonder what changes are normal? What changes can be expected with aging versus changes that are related to mental illness?
Mental health concerns are more prevalent in the elderly than any other age group; sadly, many of them go undiagnosed or they are missed because other health concerns are in the limelight. Sometimes the elderly person is hesitant to speak of their problems; they may be worried it could be a condition that will take away some of their independence. Elder care providers and other people who spend a lot of time with seniors should be on the lookout for early warning symptoms.
Quick facts about mental illness
- Approximately 20% of the adult population over the age of 55 has experienced mental health problems.
- Almost 30% of senior adults with mental health concerns are not diagnosed or treated.
- Alzheimer’s disease affects approximately 5 million adults currently on a national level. The statistics show it’s approximately 11% of seniors who will develop this disease. When other types of dementia are added, the numbers rise even higher.
- Depression and disorders affecting mood can be common among the senior population. Unfortunately, they often go untreated. Approximately 5-10% of seniors suffer from or have had bouts of depression, according to survey results.
- Anxiety disorders including obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and hoarding, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and phobias are found in about 8% of people over 65 years old.
- Most mental illness can be treated. The earlier the diagnosis, the better.
Risk factors and some of the causes
- Elderly people are less likely to report mental health complaints, increasing the risk of untreated mental illness.
- Physical disability and decline in physical health can precipitate a mental health concern.
- Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias can have a number of causes; not all of them have been identified.
- Moving away from home can cause depression
- Serious illness can lead to a decline in mental health
- Loss of a family member or loved one
- Adverse reactions or interactions with medications
- Poor eating habits or a diet lacking in sufficient nutrients
When is it mental illness?
Your elderly parent has lost their spouse, their lifelong partner. How much grieving is normal? How long should it last? How do you know when memory loss is normal or when it signals the onset of dementia? Some of the warning signs which may indicate a concern with your loved one’s mental health are:
- Unexplained loss of energy; changes in sleep patterns; social withdrawal.
- Concentration problems that are out of the ordinary; unusual difficulties making decisions.
- Weight changes unexplained by other factors; unusual loss or gain of appetite.
- Recent changes in memory loss, especially the short-term memory.
- Changes in normal ways of dress; unusual changes in appearance; declining personal hygiene not related to other factors.
- Trouble with numbers, handling finances, math, etc.
It’s better to seek help and be told everything is alright than ignore a problem that could be helped significantly with the help of early diagnosis and treatment.