Almost 20 percent of all adults age 55 and over have experienced some type of mental health concern, with one in three of these at-risk adults going undiagnosed and without treatment. With these sobering statistics affecting one of the fastest-growing populations in the U.S., we owe it to ourselves and our aging loved ones to know what signs to look for and how to approach these issues when detected.
Common Mental Health Conditions for Seniors
The most commonly reported mental health issue among the elderly is dementia, an early form of Alzheimer’s disease. It is estimated that almost 11 percent of adults age 65 and over have some progression of this destructive condition.
Other issues are surfacing among the older adult population that are affecting both independent living and the capability of sustaining a high quality of life.
Depression and other mood disorders often go undiagnosed among the elderly, primarily because they tend to live alone more, and disorders like these might not be observed. While it might not be an ongoing condition, most older adults report having experienced symptoms of depression at some point in their lives.
Anxiety often goes hand in hand with depression; this can manifest as a tendency to hoard items that are of little value to others or the development of obsessive-compulsive disorder that makes it difficult to deal with daily life. Phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder are also quite common in older adults, and as their social circles are shrinking in size, the enormity of these problems compounds, for they find themselves with few people that they can open up and talk to about their problems.
Risk Factors for Development of Mental Health Conditions
An ongoing problem with seniors is that they place more of an emphasis on reporting physical ailments rather than mental stress; consequently, much of the duress they experience is unreported.
What many fail to realize is that the normal physical and emotional challenges that can go along with aging can actually cause mental stress, and they should be attended to as diligently as other issues that arise with aging. Risk factors present in older loved ones include:
- Alcohol, substance or prescription drug abuse
- A physical change of environment that may bring on additional stress
- Onset of dementia
- Illness or loss of a loved one
- Long-term illness
- Adverse reactions to medication
- Suffering from a physical disability
- A physical illness that affects thought and emotion
- Poor diet or malnutrition
Signs of Mental Health Conditions
If your loved ones have any of the above risk factors for the development of mental issues, it is important to look for signs and symptoms that they are struggling with. Some of these indicators of mental struggle include:
1. Changes in Appearance or Home Maintenance
A decline in personal grooming or a sudden change in maintaining a clean home or yard may be an early sign of trouble. Being resistant to receiving help is also an indicator that they might be trying to keep people away so that the true state of their living conditions isn’t noticed.
2. Issues with Confusion, Concentration, or Decision-making
It is common for older adults that have some issues with memory loss. However, if they start to repeat themselves several times daily, have trouble concentrating for long periods of time or state the same things repeatedly it may be a sign of something more significant.
3. Decrease in Appetite or Weight Loss
Depression and anxiety play a role in appetite changes; look for signs of these in your loved ones that point to mental health issues.
4. Depression Lasting for More Than Two Weeks
Everyone has days when they feel sad. However, if these feelings persist, it is advised that you see a doctor to determine whether a diagnosis of depression and anxiety are in order. Being able to diagnose and then correctly treat the issue will do wonders for improving mental health.
5. Feelings of Worthlessness / Thoughts of Suicide
Depression can quickly spiral out of control if it is not properly treated. It is important to be able to identify these negative feelings and work with your loved one to alleviate their cause and find a more peaceful resolution.
6. Memory or Language Loss
Many people think that memory loss and difficulty expressing oneself with words is just a natural part of the aging process. To some extent, this is true, but if you find that episodes are excessive, or if loved ones have trouble expressing themselves due to an inability to recall words when communicating, see your doctor so they can be properly assessed and treated for possible dementia.
7. Unexplainable Physical Problems
Physical aches and pains, constipation, headaches, and other general feelings of malaise can plague those with mental health issues. The mind/body connection is quite strong, and our mental health can most certainly affect our physical wellbeing as well.
8. Social Withdrawal
When elderly people struggle with mental and physical health, it can be hard to overcome the physical, mental, and emotional barriers exist that make it difficult to be present and functional in relationships. If you have a loved one or friend that has been struggling with social isolation, do your part to reconnect and see what they need to re-engage with family and community.
9. Trouble with Budgeting and Finance
Problems with memory can certainly transfer over to working with numbers and balancing a budget. If you see that the older adults in your life are slipping when it comes to managing their finances, see if you can step in and help assess the situation, and get them the proper help, if needed.
10. Unexplained Fatigue or Sleep Changes
Mental health can disrupt healthy sleep patterns, which leads to fatigue, lethargy, and mental fog during the day. These symptoms are a sign that mental stress is present, and their sleep issues examined in order to make improvements to both mental and physical health.
Don’t Struggle; Get Help!
With a wealth of resources that exist for older adults, you no longer have to feel as if you are struggling alone. If you or loved ones are struggling with the above symptoms, contact your doctor for a thorough evaluation of your condition to see what treatment plans are available. There are many therapists who specialize in the mental health needs of older adults and can provide the needed care.
You deserve to have health and happiness well into your golden years. Do not hesitate; call and connect to start living a better life today!