Older adults who are over 60 years old are also at risk of developing mental and neurological disorders, as well as substance use problems, among other health conditions like diabetes, hearing loss, and osteoarthritis. They are even more likely to experience multiple conditions simultaneously, sometimes without loved ones knowing.
That’s why it’s crucial to be aware of the symptoms and risk factors of mental health in the elderly. Through better knowledge about this, you’ll be able to treat the problems early on with the help of regional & rural mental health services, before it worsens. Read on to learn more.
Why Mental Health Issues Are Not Addressed with the Elderly
Despite what studies and statistics reveal about mental health in the elderly, it’s quite difficult picking up on such disorders due to the unique age-related health and life challenges faced. The symptoms may be attributable or subtle to other health conditions or changes in their daily life.
Besides this, the elderly is less likely to talk about symptoms regarding any mental health problems to health care providers. It may come from the stigma of mental health, or because they aren’t able to explain what they feel or experience.
Symptoms for Mental Health Problems Among Elderly
Dementia is a progressive syndrome, leading to the deterioration of behavior, memory, thinking, as well as the inability to perform routine activities. It is similar to how younger people experience deteriorated thinking, such as brain fog or forgetfulness, due to mental health problems like depression.
The best way to describe depression is a persistently sad or anxious mood that goes on for weeks without reason. Under depression includes other mood changes, such as constant fatigue or decreased energy, irritability, as well as the loss of interest in pleasurable activities.
Feelings of worthlessness
Feelings of worthlessness are a common symptom of depression. One may also feel helplessness or hopelessness as they age, thinking that they are not useful because they are older and suffer from more physical symptoms compared to younger people.
Social isolation is also a significant symptom to take note of, especially if the patient used to be sociable and happy to be with others. The feelings of depression or worthlessness can have patients push friends and loved ones away, preferring to isolate themselves and stay alone for long periods of time.
Sleep changes are normal for the elderly, but if you notice them sleeping even more than usual, or not sleeping at all (hypersomnia or insomnia), then this may be a symptom for an underlying mental health disorder. As mentioned, fatigue feelings and decreased energy are symptoms of mental health problems as well, which is why they may be sleeping more so than usual.
Risk Factors of Mental Health in the Elderly
Alcohol or substance abuse
Just like in younger people, substance abuse issues can really increase the risk of mental health disorders such as depression. Chronic drinking and substance abuse lead to addiction, and as a result, it can cause mental health problems and/or symptoms, whether drunk or sober. Besides this, substance abuse can increase the risk of other physical health conditions.
Chronic pain is one of the main reasons for stress the elderly experience as they become older. This life stressor, while common to all people, becomes more common in later life, as it takes a blow on one’s pride and physical health. When you start feeling chronic pain when you aren’t used to it, it can heighten the risk of certain mental health disorders.
Side-effects from medications
There may be side effects from any medications the elderly take for other conditions, such as heart problems or diabetes. While such medications are helpful for physical conditions, they may take a toll on mental health, increasing symptoms of depression, and other disorders. However, these medications are required, so it’s best to speak to your doctor about the possibility of changing the medication or to receive further treatment for the side effects.
Physical disability or loss of mobility
Older adults may experience frailty, reduced mobility, and/or other health problems. This causes stressors due to the loss of capacities and functional abilities, with them requiring long-term care. Such physical and emotional pain can increase the risk of mental health disorders such as depression.
Poor diet or malnutrition
You know what they say about how our gut is the second brain? It’s true! You are what you eat. If you don’t have enough nutrients in your body, you don’t give your brain enough to function well. This can lead to worse moods, as well as signs of anxiety and depression. On the other hand, a healthy diet can lead to a better mood and a healthier brain. It can also improve symptoms of mental health disorders.
Assessing Mental Health in Seniors
It can be a bit tough to distinguish the difference between cognitive and mental health disorders. However, there are now various assessment tools available so one can pinpoint mental health disorders in seniors. These are the commonly used assessments:
- Geriatric Depression Scale
- Brief Assessment Schedule Depression Cards
- Cornell Scale for Depression in Dementia
- Geriatric Mental State Schedule
- Centre for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale
- Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression
- Montgomery-Asberg Depression Rating Scale
- Mini-Mental State Examination
- Brief Psychiatric Rating Scale
- Cambridge Mental Disorders of Elderly
- Health of the Nation Outcome Scales 65+
These are just some of the many mental health assessments conducted, usually through observation, tests, interviews, and the like. This helps medical professionals diagnose the patient properly and prescribe the right treatment according to the patient’s individual problems.
Wrapping It Up
Mental health is absolutely crucial to take care of, even in seniors. Make sure you are aware of these symptoms and risk factors. Doing so will ensure that your older loved ones have a better quality of life.
If you have questions or want to share your insights on mental health in seniors, share it in the comments section below. I hope this article informed you about this important topic and that you continue caring for your senior loved ones better.