Mental health concerns and conditions are common in seniors. It is estimated that about one-third of seniors will experience a mental illness at some point in their lives. However, with age adults are more likely to report physical symptoms rather than mental health symptoms. The topic of mental illness can be a sensitive one for many adults, particulaly seniors, who feel reluctant to talk about their mental or emotional state due to shame or stigma. Fortunately, there are early signs of mental health concerns that you can observe as family members or friends.
Understanding Risk Factors for Mental Health Problems in Seniors
Certain risk factors, due to new emotional and physical stressors that are common later in life, may increase the likelihood for certain seniors to experience mental health challenges.
According to the World Health Organisation, coping with chronic pain, loss of mobility and other health conditions can impact an older adult’s mental health. Seniors may be at risk for developing a mental health concern caused by physical risk factors, such as malnutrition or certain medications due to their side effects. This risk increases if hospitalization or living in a long-term care facility occurs.
Elder adults may also be at an increased risk for experiencing a mental health problem if they have experienced the loss of loved ones.
Assessing Your Loved One’s Needs
If you are worried about a senior family member or friend’s mental health, you should begin by assessing the following areas of their life for any concerns:
- Daily self-care tasks, such as showering or bathing, getting dressed and preparing meals
- Physical health, such as chronic pain, hospitalisations and loss of mobility
- Emotional health, such as loss of interest in activities, confusion and social isolation
- Safety, such as financial safety, medication habits and driving
If you notice discrepancies and inconsistencies in these areas or are concerned as to your loved one’s mental health, finding a professional for mental health advice and care may be a worthwhile endeavor.
Looking for the Symptoms of Senior Mental Health Conditions
Some changes in behavior and lifestyle are a normal part of the aging process. However, it is essential to know the difference between those regular changes and changes that indicate a mental health condition.
Dementia, depression, and anxiety are the most reported mental health issues amongst seniors. As a family member or friend of an elder person identifying the signs of these conditions early can help you get your loved one the proper care and treatment.
You can look for the following symptoms, which have been commonly mistaken for typical signs of aging:
- Persistent confusion or disorientation
- Memory loss, especially with recent events and short-term memory loss
- Difficulty caring for finances or budgeting
- Changes in personal care, appearance and the care of the home
- Changes in eating habits, like a decrease or increase in appetite
- Depression that lasts longer than two weeks
- Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness; thoughts of suicide
- Social withdrawal and isolation
- Fatigue, sleep changes or insomnia
- Persistent pain and aches with no known cause
Finding Proper Mental Health Care
A good starting point is encouraging or offering to take a senior loved one to visit their general practitioner to seek professional help once you start to be concerned about their mental health. Addressing and diagnosing any physical or mental health conditions is the first step to treating them effectively. Medication and therapy can treat many mental health conditions and mitigate risk factors if advised by a professional.
There are also many healthcare professionals that are trained to support families and caregivers. Families often choose home care services for seniors to support their independence and safety at home. While your loved ones receive medical treatment for their mental health concerns, they can also get assistance from a home caregiver who can aid with self-care tasks, maintain their home and dress, and ensure safety. Caregivers can reduce feelings of social isolation and help seniors engage with activities they enjoy!
There are many resources available to help if your older loved one is experiencing signs of a mental health condition. It is vital to recognize the symptoms of mental health problems and know where to look for the proper care in order to help your senior loved ones live happy healthy lives.