Mental health issues in seniors are fairly common, but they can be uniquely challenging to identify and address, both for loved ones and healthcare professionals alike. Elderly patients are often more reluctant to discuss mental health issues, and less likely to see the need for treatment than younger generations are. To make matters worse many clinicians are not properly trained to identify mental illness in seniors.
Ageism and incorrect preconceptions about aging can also be a part of the problem; many older adults and their loved ones mistakenly view issues like depression and anxiety to be simply a natural part of getting older, rather than treatable conditions.
As a result of these factors and others, research shows an estimated 63% of seniors do not receive the mental health treatment or services they need.
Our beloved senior population deserves the best possible quality of life. That’s why it’s vital for those with aging loved ones to be on the lookout for these seven signs that may indicate mental health issues in seniors.
Memory or Language Issues
Many people assume that memory loss or language issues are just a normal part of aging. That can be true to a certain extent — getting older can cause a certain loss of mental acuity. However, it’s a bad idea to write these issues off too quickly. Memory and language issues can be a warning sign for more serious problems, like dementia, which often go unrecognized until they are significantly advanced.
If you notice the senior in your life is misplacing things, forgetting important dates, failing to recognize familiar people or places, or asking the same questions repeatedly, you should consult a healthcare professional.
Mental health issues in seniors can cause them to withdraw socially, lose interest in things that they used to enjoy, and avoid social gatherings. Lack of mobility or transportation, retirement, or the loss of a spouse or close family member, can be contributing factors that present challenging barriers to healthy socialization.
The isolation that follows social withdrawal can, in turn, increase risk factors for morbidity, including a range of physical conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, cognitive decline, dementia, a weakened immune system, and death.
Changes in Personal Care
Personal care routines, such as bathing, brushing one’s teeth, washing and changing one’s clothes, grooming, or even applying makeup, are often one of the first things impacted by mental health issues.
Changes in appearance, hygiene, or routines, as well as difficulty keeping up with household maintenance chores, can all be signs that someone is struggling with mental illness.
While this can manifest as neglect to do things like shave or bathe, it may also take the form of excessive focus on personal care. Any sudden change can be a sign of a deeper issue.
Changes in Mood
Similarly, any sudden change in mood can be a signal that something is wrong, even if it is a mood that appears on the surface to be positive, such as an elevated energy level or a carefree attitude.
Conversely, increased irritability, anxiety, or aggressiveness can be signs of depression. We all have days when we feel sad, and seniors are no different. A bad day, or even a few bad days, aren’t necessarily signs of clinical depression. But if symptoms persist for two weeks or longer, it may be time to talk to a doctor.
Changes in Eating Habits
A sudden shift in eating habits can also signal mental health issues in seniors, regardless of whether the person in question has lost their appetite or has started eating a lot more. Binge eating is just as unhealthy as eating less and skipping meals, and one should be attentive to a change in either direction. By the same token, a loss of interest in nutritional food, and an increased consumption of junk food, may be a bad sign.
Fatigue or Sleep Changes
Poor mental health can be very disruptive to sleep patterns, causing fatigue, stress, energy loss, and brain fog during the day. Likewise, excessive sleeping can also be indicative of a deeper struggle.
Many people find that aging makes it harder to fall asleep and to sleep through the night, and sleep patterns do tend to change as one gets older. Nevertheless, as long-term insomnia can be a major cause of depression, sleep changes shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Confusion, Disorientation, or Concentration Issues
As previously mentioned, cognitive issues in the elderly are commonly dismissed as being a normal part of aging. But beyond a certain point, they can indicate a more significant issue. In fact, confusion, disorientation, and concentration issues are not just a sign of potential dementia; they can also be symptoms of major depression or psychosis.
All of the conditions listed above may be treatable. With so many resources available to help ensure the best geriatric care possible, there is no need to simply accept them, nor to feel that you or your loved one is struggling alone.
At Reflections, we are deeply committed to the well-being of our clients. If the senior in your life is exhibiting any of the symptoms outlined here, please don’t hesitate to reach out to explore your options.
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