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Understanding Mental Illness in Our Elderly

Seniors face many challenges as they age, from mobility limitations to memory loss. One issue that is often overlooked is mental illness among the elderly.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 20% of seniors around the world have some form of neurological disorder, the most common being Alzheimer’s disease and depression.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also notes that depression is more prevalent among people with existing conditions or restricted function, which represents roughly 80% of the elderly community.

There are many reasons why seniors with mental health issues may be reluctant to ask for help. Mental illness often occurs alongside other health conditions, so symptoms may be missed or attributed to other aspects of aging.

How Mental Illness Affects the Elderly

While it’s difficult for seniors to speak up about physical concerns, mental illness bears an additional level of stigma. While mental health is more openly discussed than ever before, many still view it as personal failing — if they acknowledge it at all.

Most families are aware of the risks posed by Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. However, other cognitive conditions, like depression and anxiety, are also serious medical issues for the elderly community. Both can lead seniors to neglect their own needs in ways that affect their overall health and quality of life.

Seniors with depression may experience less energy, a reduced appetite, a general lack of interest in the world around them, as well as psychosomatic symptoms that don’t respond to treatment. The WHO notes depression has also been linked to poorer function compared to other chronic conditions.

Mental illness can have a devastating impact on the health and quality of life of seniors. It’s important for families to understand the signs of mental illness among the elderly. These include:

  • Expressing feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • Withdrawing from friends, family, and the community
  • Showing less interests in hobbies and events they usually enjoy
  • A depressive state that lasts for multiple weeks
  • Significant weight loss or gain due to changes in appetite
  • Increased confusion and short-term memory loss
  • Persistent unexplained aches, pains, or digestive issues

How to Promote Your Loved One’s Mental Health and Well-Being

Mental illness may require overlapping forms of support to address. If you have reason to believe an elderly loved one has depression or some other mental illness, you can consult their doctor about a specific course of action.

In addition, if your loved one seems isolated, consider what steps you can take to make your loved one feel more supported and engaged. Due to the restrictions related to COVID-19, this can be especially difficult. However, it may be possible to arrange more check-ins and visits — even if they’re online or from the driveway.

If you can’t be there as often as you’d like to be, you can also hire a home care provider. A compassionate care professional can provide companionship, stability, and stimulation for elderly individuals with mental illnesses. They can also prepare healthy meals and assist with other daily tasks that your loved one needs.

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