How to Recognize Mental Illness in Older Adults

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Symptoms of mental illness in older adults are easy to overlook, often dismissed as the result of aging. However, mental health treatment is just as important for elderly individuals as it is for younger adults. Currently, mental illness affects roughly 15 percent of older adults. That number is expected to rise as the baby boomer generation ages. As a caregiver or family member, it’s important to know the signs of common mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety and PTSD.

Depression

Depression is among the most prevalent mental illnesses affecting older adults. Unfortunately, it is often disregarded as a side effect of aging. However, symptoms of depression are not a normal part of the aging process but indicative of mental distress. Common risk factors include genetics, personal history, brain chemistry, and stress. Consider a psychological examination if an elderly person in your life has experienced the following symptoms for more than two weeks:

  • Persistent sadness, hopelessness, or “emptiness”
  • Restlessness or irritability
  • Fatigue or lack of motivation
  • Changes in dietary habits and weight fluctuations
  • Thoughts of suicide or death
  • Unexplained aches and pains

Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders affect up to as many as 14 percent of older adults and can severely impact their lives. Of the individuals affected, nearly half share symptoms of depression, as well. Generalized anxiety disorder typically results in feelings of worry or dread in everyday life, even if there is no rational cause for distress.

  • Phobia: Irrational fear of objects or experiences that pose little to no real danger, such as socializing, specific animals, heights, enclosed spaces, etc.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: Distress caused by the memory of a traumatic event, resulting in flashbacks, panic attacks, and sometimes violence.
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: Engaging in behavior or rituals to suppress recurring obsessive thoughts (hand washing, counting, tics, etc.)
  • Panic Disorder: The sudden onset of panic attacks, which include physical symptoms such as heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, and abdominal distress.

Bipolar Disorders

Contrary to popular belief, bipolar disorders do not disappear with age. In fact, 10 percent of all bipolar cases are diagnosed in patients over 50 years old. If untreated, symptoms can worsen. Generally, elderly adults with bipolar disorder don’t experience the typical manic swings seen in younger patients. Instead, symptoms include irritability, agitation and confusion. In some cases, older patients experience symptoms of depression and mania at the same time.

Eating Disorders

Most people associate eating disorders with teens and young adults. However, they also affect older adults, though the risk factors are different. Eating disorders in elderly individuals often result from depression or grief. As older adults lose friends and family to disease and aging, they often change dietary habits to cope with the grief. Symptoms include rapid weight loss or gain, changes in behavior at mealtimes, excessive use of diet pills and supplements, and missed meals.

At High Focus Centers, our treatment programs help older adults overcome mental illness. If someone in your life is suffering from a mental health condition, submit a contact form or call (877) 701-0682. Get the help your loved one needs.