Senior mental illness

Understanding Mental Illness in Seniors

Mental illness can have devastating impacts on people of any age. In seniors, common problems like depression and anxiety can pose unique challenges. People who have been managing more complex mental health conditions effectively for decades may also experience changes in symptoms or responses to medications as they grow older. All of these issues can be confusing to navigate for both seniors and their loved ones.

Recognizing Common Mental Health Disorders

Anxiety and depression are by far the two most common mental health disorders in seniors, and unfortunately, they are often misunderstood. There is a difference between experiencing grief over the loss of a loved one, for example, and developing depression as a result of that loss. Older adults often experience stress upon receiving new medical diagnoses, but that stress doesn’t always spiral into an active anxiety disorder.

The key to understanding and recognizing mental health disorders when they come up is to spend time with loved ones, ask about their lives, and get a baseline for how they act normally. For families that are not exceptionally close, this can feel like an invasion of privacy, but the flip side of the coin is that it also creates opportunities for meaningful social connection. Here are a few warning signs of depression and anxiety in seniors to look out for:

  • Changes in diet
  • Changes in sleep pattern
  • Substance misuse
  • Mood swings
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Increasing difficulty with basic tasks

To complicate matters, the most common symptoms of mental illnesses like depression and anxiety can overlap with those of other medical conditions or occur as a side effect of prescribed medications. The best thing to do is to pay attention to potential warning signs and help seniors schedule appointments with their primary care physicians to get an official diagnosis.

Depression and Dementia

Depression and dementia share many characteristics, which can complicate matters even further. Seniors may also develop comorbid depression when they receive dementia diagnoses. Teasing out the causes of specific symptoms is a job best left to a geriatric psychologist or neurologist. However, there are some things that family caregivers should know about the connection between depression and dementia

Depression Is a Known Risk Factor for Dementia

Seniors with depression are more likely to develop dementia. The risk is highest in the first year after a major depression diagnosis but continues throughout the rest of a person’s life. A correct diagnosis of depression doesn’t preclude the possibility that a senior may also be in need of dementia care.

Depression Can Be a Symptom of Dementia

In some cases, depression is a symptom of dementia rather than a comorbid disease. Up to 40% of seniors with dementia experience depression as a symptom. In these cases, seeking memory care services and the help of a geriatric psychiatrist familiar with dementia treatment can help. There is no cure for dementia, but there are ways to improve a person’s quality of life and thus reduce symptoms of depression.

Dementia May Be Mistaken for Depression

Confusion about the symptoms of early dementia for those with depression can lead to a delayed diagnosis, which can leave seniors without the help they need. Dementia and depression symptoms that overlap include:

  • Difficulties with concentration
  • Memory loss
  • Losing interest in activities
  • Social isolation
  • Feelings of helplessness

When a senior is already struggling with depression, these symptoms of dementia may be ignored until significant cognitive decline occurs. When that happens, loved ones should seek out memory care in Tacoma, WA.

Managing More Complex Mental Illnesses

Seniors struggling with more complex mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and other lifelong conditions often face unique challenges. Even if they have been stable for decades, changes in how the body processes medications with age, drug interactions, and the development of cognitive symptoms can all lead mentally ill seniors to need changes to their care plans. 

Loved ones can help by organizing seniors’ medical records, preparing for doctors’ appointments, and ensuring adherence to medication routines. Seniors struggling with new or worsening mental illness need advocates on their side who can help them understand medical terminology, identify problems with medication side effects, and keep track of changing symptoms.

Manage Mental Illness and Maintain Quality of Life

For seniors struggling with both diagnosed mental illnesses and cognitive decline, finding adequate care is the key to maintaining their quality of life. Here at Pioneer Place Memory Haven, we have experience with caring for dementia patients and mentally ill seniors who need increasing levels of extra help and have created an environment in which people with memory impairment can continue to thrive. Call (253) 539-3410 to learn how to help a loved one struggling with dementia and mental illness.

Phone 253-539-3410