Mental Health and the Elderly: Understanding and Dealing with the Issue

Mental health is a common concern among older adults. In fact, it is more common than you think. The problem is, people tend to dismiss the problem. Understanding the correlation between mental health and the elderly is important in order to deal with the issue.

It shouldn’t be merely dismissed since mental health issues can also affect the overall well-being of the person, which can result in the deterioration of physical health, especially when compounded with chronic diseases common to the elderly.

Mental illnesses in the elderly: Why are they not often addressed?

While mental health is common among older adults, it is often not addressed. This is partly because the signs may appear subtle, or that the symptoms are often just attributed to other non-mental health conditions associated with aging.

Older adults also have the tendency to keep the symptoms to themselves. They don’t go complaining about their mental issues. This may be due to the stigma often attached to mental illness.

That is why, if you are taking care of an elderly, it is important that you have a basic understanding of mental health among seniors and older adults.

Health issues common to the elderly

The elderly are more inclined to report physical health problems than mental or psychological ones. This makes diagnosing and, more so, treating the senior’s health problem quite challenging. Since mental illness may be triggered by physical stress and certain conditions, it is important to know what these are.

These possible triggers include:

  • Chronic illness
  • Chronic pain
  • Physical disability
  • Physical impairment affecting memory, thought, and emotion
  • Solitude and loneliness
  • Major life changes

Signs of Mental Illness in the Elderly: What to watch out for

We often associate forgetfulness with aging. However, forgetfulness is not the same as memory loss, anxiety, depression, and other cognitive problems. Often, these are signs of a far serious mental issue.

Since most elderly won’t likely tell you if they experience the early signs and symptoms, it is important that you keep an eye on them yourself, whether you have an elderly family member or you are a caregiver. The warning signs that you should watch out for in mental health of older adults are:

  • Persistent depressive and suicidal thoughts, feeling of immense sadness and hopelessness.
  • Trouble sleeping or staying asleep, or the opposite, which is too much sleeping.
  • Change in mood, energy level, or appetite.
  • Having difficulty feeling positive emotions.

Common mental health illnesses among seniors

To have a better understanding and to efficiently deal with the issue, here are the mental health illnesses common in older adults and seniors:

  1. Depression

The most common mental health concern among the elderly is depression. This type of mood disorder affects older women more than older men. If left untreated, it can impede social functioning and can lead to other mental and physical impairments. Depression can even interfere with and worsen the senior’s chronic health problems.

The common symptoms include:

  • Persistent sadness
  • Problems sleeping
  • Physical discomfort or pain
  • Distancing from things you previously normally enjoy
  • General feeling of slowing down

It’s also important to know the risk factors as well for late-onset depression. These are:

  • Widowhood
  • Physical illness
  • Drinking problems
  • Diminished functional status
  • Lack of education

Hence, if you noticed any of the signs and symptoms of depression in your loved one or client, immediately seek professional help.

  1. Anxiety Disorders

Another common illness is anxiety disorder. Statistics tell us that anxiety disorders are associated with depression. These are the risk factors to watch out for:

  • Sleeping problems
  • Poor health
  • Stressful or traumatic event
  • Side effects of certain medications
  • Physical impairments
  • Alcoholic and drug abuse
  • Chronic conditions like diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and thyroid problems
  1. Bipolar disorders

Bipolar disorders are marked by sudden and irregular mood shifts. The problem is that these are often misdiagnosed among older adults because some of its symptoms are also common in aging.

Here are symptoms of late-onset bipolar disorder you should watch out for:

  • Agitation
  • Confusion
  • Hyperactivity
  • Irritability
  • Psychosis
  1. Eating disorder

Eating disorders are now becoming prevalent among seniors. These disorders may include anorexia nervosa or bulimia, which are often undetected among older adults. This is why it’s important to know what signs to watch for, which are:

  • Weight loss
  • Muscle weakness and anemia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Slow healing
  • Chronic dizziness
  • Memory deficits and cognitive decline
  • Decreased food intake

With all these mental concerns and psychological problems in old age, it is important to watch out for any signs that may be crucial in the early detection and treatment of the illness. Keep an eye on your client or loved one, and be ready to seek the necessary professional home care help when needed.

Mike Miller

Mike Miller

Mike Miller is the CEO and Founder of At Home Care Service, a Home Care agency located in San Diego, California. Senior Caring Solutions was the previous name of the business. He has been involved with senior care for over 15 years. Mike knows the ins and outs of the home care industry, and he is a great resource for people looking for elderly care services. Mike is well-known in California as an expert in the industry.


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