As we age, it is natural for changes to to occur, but even the common physical and emotional stresses that accompany aging can be triggers for such mental illnesses as depression, anxiety and mood disorders.
Around 20% of adults over the age of 55 have experienced a mental health concern, but less than one third seek professional help.
Depression and mood disorders are common among older adults, and sadly, they often go undiagnosed or untreated. Anxiety is another prevalent mental health problem that is commonly seen in the elderly. These include everything from obsessive-compulsive behavior (such as hoarding) to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Diagnosing and treating mental illness in seniors can be difficult because older adults are more likely to complain of physical symptoms rather than mental symptoms. While physical symptoms can be a trigger for mental illness, physical symptoms can also often be a result of an underlying mental illness. Some risk factors for mental illness in the elderly include:
- Physical disability or physical illness that affects thought, memory or emotion (dementia, thyroid disease, etc.)
- Chronic or long-term illness (cancer, heart disease, etc.)
- Change of environment (moving into assisted living, nursing home, etc.)
- Loss of a loved one
- Interactions with medication
- Substance or alcohol abuse
- Poor diet or malnutrition
With age, it is common to get forgetful; however, persistent memory loss or cognitive impairment can be signs of a potentially serious mental illness. Those caring for older adults should keep an eye out for the following symptoms which could indicate a decline in mental health:
- Lack of motivation
- Lack of self-care
- Isolation from daily activities, friends or family
- Anger (snappy, short, rude, etc.)
- Depressed mood or mood swings (lasting longer than 2 weeks)
- Memory loss
- Decline in physical health that can’t be explained (aches, constipation, etc.)
- Changes in appetite or weight loss
- Confusion, disorientation or problems concentrating
How We Can Help
Your loved ones may not be aware that they need professional help or may not know where to find it. If you have a loved one experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, CrossWinds Counseling and Wellness is a great place to start. We offer therapy and counseling services that help treat and prevent mental illness in your older loved ones and make sure they are on the right track to healthy aging.