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Mental Health in Older Adults

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As people age and become older adults, they often face physical and mental health complications unique to the aging process. Mental health issues can be difficult to notice, as changing moods, sadness, and loneliness can be attributed to various life factors, like retirement, deaths of friends, and declining physical strength. As such, the older population is often underdiagnosed and undertreated, which can lead to some serious consequences.

Warning Signs

While mental health conditions each have unique symptoms associated with them, some general indicators can warn loved ones that a friend or family member is struggling with mental health:

  • Mood, behavior, energy, sleep, or appetite changes
  • Being unable to feel positive emotions
  • Being on edge or unable to focus
  • Seeming angry, irritable, stressed, or aggressive
  • Issues with digestion, headache, or pain
  • Expressing sad, hopeless, or suicidal thoughts
  • Hallucinations, delusions, or obsessive thinking

Common Concerns

Every stage of life has different benefits and struggles. This can change the types of mental health conditions a person is more likely to experience at a specific age. The most common mental health diagnoses faced by seniors include:

Dismissed Depression Symptoms

Although it is estimated that around 7 percent of the senior population suffers from depression, many people never receive proper treatment for the condition because they mistake the signs of depression for normal signs of aging. This can lead to an assumption that depression symptoms cannot be treated, which is especially problematic because older adults have the highest rate of suicide. Depression is highly treatable, and treatment could potentially prevent some of these deaths.

Conditions that Increase the Likelihood of Depression

While it is possible for people to develop depression at any age, there are certain things that seniors are more likely to experience that could increase the chances of them becoming depressed:

  • Loss of loved ones – becoming a widow and experiencing the deaths of parents, siblings, and friends
  • Physical illnesses
  • Decreased independence

These conditions may contribute to several risk factors for depression:

  • Insufficient emotional support
  • Social isolation/loneliness
  • Decreased life satisfaction
  • Frequent mental distress

How Depression is Treated in Seniors

Because older adults are more likely to have trouble remembering whether they have already taken medications and to accidentally overdose as a result, the American Psychological Association (APA) generally recommends that they are treated for depression with non-pharmacological options, which include:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT)
  • Group life-review/reminiscence therapy

Seniors and Dementia

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that around 50 million people around the world suffer from dementia, with that number expected to triple in the next 30 years. The WHO describes dementia as:

  • Chronic
  • Progressive deterioration of memory, thinking, and behavior
  • Impacting the ability to perform daily activities
  • Mainly affecting the older population

Signs of Dementia

While there are several different types of dementia, each with unique symptoms, some of the signs that are common among all types of dementia include:

  • Getting lost in familiar places
  • Saying the wrong word to refer to a familiar item (referring to a shoe as a horse)
  • Forgetting the name of someone they know well
  • Not remembering things they used to know
  • Being unable to complete daily tasks on their own
  • Changes to their behaviors or personality

Diagnosing Dementia

Because there are numerous other conditions that can present like dementia, it is important for a person showing possible signs of it to be properly diagnosed. This may involve:

  • A physical by their primary care doctor
  • Reviewing family medical history
  • Brain scans
  • Testing – cognitive, neurological, blood and genetic
  • An evaluation by a mental health professional

Addressing Dementia

Because dementia is a broad umbrella term that encompasses a number of specific diagnoses, many different treatments are used. Caregivers who are supporting a person with dementia can help them by:

  • Ensuring consistency in their day-to-day lives
  • Helping them track important information
  • Giving the person access to activities they enjoy and trying to schedule them around the same time each day
  • Allowing the person as much independence as they can safely handle, for as long as possible
  • Purchasing clothing that is easy for them to take off and put on themselves
  • Refraining from arguing with them, even when they make statements that aren’t accurate or don’t make sense

Anxiety in Aging Adults

Anxiety is more common in seniors than either depression or cognitive issues and is frequently seen in patients who also have depression. Older adults may be especially anxious about:

  • Financial security
  • Health problems, mobility issues and physical pain
  • Becoming isolated
  • Losing independence
  • End of life planning
  • Grief and loss

Treatments for Anxiety

Anxiety is often treated with therapy, medication or a combination of the two. An online screening tool is available through Mental Health America for people who think they might have anxiety. This may make it easier to decide if it is time to reach out for additional support.

If you have questions about mental health in seniors or you would like to access support for yourself or a loved one, Highland Hospital in West Virginia is here to help.

Looking for residential mental health treatment in Charleston, West Virginia? For more information about Highland Hospital and the services we offer, please call and speak with someone today at (304) 322-3037.

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