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Elder Care: 6 Things to Know About Mental Illness in Older Adults

September is Healthy Aging Month, and in addressing mental illness in elder care is important. It’s estimated that at least 20 percent of adults over the age of 55 face mental health concerns. Below are the six key indicators that aging adults and caregivers providing elder care should consider when it comes to keeping aging minds healthy and active.

1. Causes

Ask anyone who provides elder care and they will agree, there are many factors that come along with aging and contribute to decline in mental health among the elderly. Aging in general causes a natural decrease in mental and physical abilities, a fact that can often be difficult to accept as you enter your later years. As friends and loved ones begin to pass away, a senior’s inability to cope with grief and loss is unfortunately a major contributor to depression and mental illness in the elderly.

Medical bills, budgeting and overall finances can also cause mental malady, especially when addressing financial issues with aging parents. The elderly also face issues dealing with change. Even if it’s for the best, moving a senior to an assisted care facility can be difficult on their mental health merely because it’s a new living situation that has the potential to alter their daily routine.

Finally, not all who engage in elder care can be present 24 x 7. This leads to a lack of social interaction for the elderly and is another primary cause of their decline in mental health. Meals on Wheels, senior centers, and visits from loved ones are fantastic ways to provide aging adults with the social interactions they need for healthy aging, while providing a “break” for those providing elder care.

Symptoms

2. Warning Signs

In order to appropriately monitor the mental health of aging adults, caregivers and the seniors themselves need to keep an eye out for the red flags associated with mental illness 2. These include (but are not limited to) mood swings, change in diet, hopelessness, substance abuse, excessive sleep or lack of sleep, rage, extreme anxiety, obsessive compulsiveness, and suicidal thoughts.

3. Sleep

As mentioned before, sleep is often a key indicator of whether or not an aging adult is suffering from mental illness. Insomnia is a disorder that inhibits a person’s ability to fall and remain asleep. This disorder is particularly common in seniors with decline in mental and brain health. Treating insomnia 3 is more challenging with seniors because the popular medications used on younger people can cause additional health risks like increased chance of fall and general disorientation when used on the elderly.

Doctors often opt for hormone-melatonin treatments over the aforementioned medications. If you expect that your senior loved one is suffering from poor sleep, make an appointment with their doctor to discuss all the healthy options available to help boost the quality of their sleep.

Depression

Depression is an extremely common mental illness suffered by the elderly, as millions and millions of seniors suffer from this late-life affliction. Yet, a relative few receive appropriate treatment for depression for a variety of reasons. Ensure healthy aging through mental wellness by zeroing in on the symptoms of late-life depression.

4. Difficulty in Diagnosis

Diagnosing mental illness in the elderly is much more challenging than it is for younger age groups. This is caused by the fact that the symptoms of poor mental health often overlap with those of the other illnesses the aging adult may be facing.

To further complicate the issue, seniors are often prescribed multiple medications, some of which possess side-effects that affect the aging adult’s mood. Depression itself can even be listed as a side effect. Doctors will try to change up these prescriptions in order to put a stop to potential depression-causing medications, so it’s important to track and monitor the senior’s reactions to various medications and keep their doctor informed.

5. Physical Consequences of Poor Mental Health

The effects of mental illness in the elderly 3 can threaten a senior’s physical health in three primary ways. The most straightforward way depression can physically affect a senior is that it increases the risk of cardiac issues. Seniors who lack mental wellness are more likely to suffer heart attacks. Furthermore, not only does poor mental health put the senior at risk for more physical ailments, it also increases the likelihood of death when those physical illnesses strike. The third and final way depression can affect an aging adult physically is that it exacerbates the existing illnesses the senior faces. All these are reasons why mental illness in seniors must be treated as seriously as physical illnesses.

Conclusion

6. Treatment

There are numerous effective ways to help promote healthy aging by increasing long-term brain and mental health in older adults. Receiving counseling from a therapist is a good step to take if the senior is willing and able to speak about their depression or mental health fluctuations.

Forms of brain stimulation or medications such as antidepressants are other common options. As always, support from friends and family goes a long way to increase the overall well-being of aging adults. Declining mental health is a struggle that many seniors face, but with the proper care, support, and guidance, anyone can begin making great strides toward reclaiming their happiness.

The Balanced Care Method™ is Home Care Assistance’s revolutionary approach to senior care that prioritizes healthy aging for each and every client. The program was built on studies demonstrating that only one-third of our longevity is based on genetics and two-thirds on lifestyle factors within our control.
Home Care Assistance caregivers are trained in the Balanced Care Method™, offering the first senior care solution with an emphasis on balance and longevity. By working with specific lifestyle behaviors, Home Care Assistance caregivers extend and enhance the lives of seniors, helping them live longer, happier, more balanced lives. By following the Balanced Care Method, seniors can work to prevent the causes, identify the symptoms, or actively treat mental illness in their own lives. Learn more about how the Balanced Care Method™ can help your aging loved one today.

Resources:

1) https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/older-adults-and-mental-health/index.shtml 
2) https://www.cdc.gov/aging/pdf/mental_health.pdf 
3) http://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/depression-elderly#1