8 symptoms of mental illness in the elderly

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signs of mental illness in seniors

The world’s population is rapidly ageing and India too is not untouched by this phenomenon. India too is undergoing a demographic transition and in the coming years, it is expected that the aged population of 60 years and above will increase drastically.

With an increase in the proportion of the elderly population, the geriatric mental health is bound to pose a massive challenge for the government, since a large section of the society still believes that the various signs of mental health issues in older adults are a regular part of the normal ageing process.

The elderly population of India is today facing a huge burden of various mental disorders due to various factors like ageing of the brain, breakdown of the traditional family support system and other socio-economic factors. The positive aspect about elderly mental illness is that a large majority of geriatric mental illnesses can be accurately diagnosed and effectively treated if help is sought early.  

Now, before we point out the various symptoms of mental illness in the elderly is important to understand what is mental health and mental illness.

what is mental health?

Mental health in very simple terms refers to the state of an individual’s psychological, behavioural and emotional well-being. The state of good mental health not only refers to the absence of any mental illnesses but also the individual’s capability to realise his potential, cope with the stresses of life, ability to learn, to feel and manage a range of emotions and the ability to form and manage the relationship with others.    

Mental illness or mental health disorders, on the other hand, refers to the health conditions that negatively affect the way we think, feel, behave and interact with others. Often the terms mental health and mental illness are used interchangeably, however, there is a difference. Mental health is not equivalent to mental illness, although poor mental health can lead to mental illness. Some of the most common mental illnesses in the elderly include dementia, depression, anxiety disorders and severe cognitive impairment among others.

factors that directly or indirectly affect psychological problems of old age

  • Retirement – Retirement is one of the most significant social factors that strongly affects a working individual. Retirement brings about a sense of dependency which is not pleasant for a senior person. Such people also witness a dip in their self-esteem, self-confidence and a loss of sense of authority leading to depression and anxiety.
  • Change in Family Systems – With new millennials opting for nuclear families, the traditional family structure serving as a support system has also reduced leading the elderly feeling lonely, left behind or under-appreciated leading to various kinds of mental health issues.
  • Financial Issues – This is also one of the major factors that negatively affect the mental well-being of a person. With a loss of a steady source of income elderlies increasingly feel a sense of helplessness and dependency, which also affects their quality of life.   

8 symptoms of mental illness in elderly

To help you recognise the various signs of mental disability among older adults for the early detection and subsequent treatment, we have pointed out eight of the most common symptoms of mental illness in older adults. These symptoms of mental illness in older adults are as follows;

  1. Confusion, disorientation and problems concentrating or decision making
  2. Changes in the weight – increase or decrease in the appetite
  3. Memory Loss, especially short term memory problems
  4. Unexplained fatigue and energy loss or trouble sleeping/ sleep changes
  5. Social withdrawal – loss of interest in things that used to be enjoyable
  6. Feeling depressed for longer than two weeks
  7. A feeling of worthlessness, inappropriate guilt and helplessness
  8. General disinterest in living or thoughts of suicide  

diagnosis of mental disability in older adults

When it comes to the diagnosis of mental disability in older adults, in majority of the cases it goes under-diagnosed. The senior population themselves don’t perceive the need for mental health care and seldom bring up the concern with their primary health giver who can then direct them to a psychologist for early detection and treatment.

As such, it is very important for us to understand the difference between daily forgetfulness and persistent cognitive or memory loss or any other signs of mental illness in seniors.  

Besides the above pointed symptoms of mental illness, if you spot changes in the appearance or way of dressing of your loved one or if they are facing trouble handling finances or working with numbers, don’t simply ignore them as old age problems, rather take notice, talk to them and get them the necessary consultation from a doctor. Always remember, early detection is key to the treatment of varied older adult mental health problems.

assessing mental health in older adults

An ongoing problem with the assessment of mental health in older adults is that they report physical symptoms and not psychological ones. The majority of seniors fail to recognize mental health issues themselves. That is why we recommend family members to assess the mental health of older adults at regular intervals. We encourage you to seek professional assistance and advice if you think your loved ones are experiencing some kind of old age mental disorders

Assessment of the following areas will help you determine the mental health condition of your loved ones and enable you to decide whether a consultation with the doctor is needed.

  • Medication safety – worrisome symptoms and side effects of medications and tendency to forget to take the medicines
  • Physical health – frequent hospitalizations, experiencing uncomfortable symptoms and pain, and loss of appetite
  • Self-care activities and daily life tasks – preparing meals, using their phones, and dressing
  • Brain health and mood – isolation and feeling of hopelessness
  • Safety – driving safety and financial safety

Besides assessing the above areas, memory screening and neuropsychological assessments can help identify old age mental problems. The mental health specialists can conduct the screening tests and determine whether the forgetfulness and other symptoms are a result of normal aging or due to mental health problems. The neuropsychological assessments aim to measure the level of cognitive functioning among older adults. The psychological assessment allows for early diagnosis of elderly mental illnesses. The tests performed by experienced healthcare professionals pave the way for further intervention and treatment of your loved ones. Thus, these assessments are of great help for the delivery of the right treatment at the right time.

At Portea Heal at Home, we aim to meet the care needs of older adults experiencing mental health issues. Our eldercare experts are committed to addressing the mental health needs of seniors and ensuring optimum well-being. Book an appointment with us and let us care for your loved ones.

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