According to the Center for Disease Control, approximately twenty percent of people over the age of fifty-five are affected by mental health disorders. While mental illness strikes younger adults more often, seniors are less likely to seek help. Furthermore, mental health concerns in seniors often go unrecognized by loved ones and untreated by medical professionals. Failing to address a possible mental health concern in a senior will negatively impact their quality of life, interpersonal relationships, and treatments for pre-existing health issues. It is imperative, as a caregiver or loved one, to be aware of the most prevalent mental health disorders in seniors and their risk factors and warning signs.
Common Mental Health Issues for Seniors
While other mental health issues may plague senior citizens, these are the most common:
Seven percent of the world’s older population, including about 6 million Americans over the age of 65, experience depression, making it the top mental health concern for seniors. Depression commonly develops alongside the aging process and can often be attributed to loneliness, loss of a spouse or loved one, or chronic health problems. Unfortunately, only about 10% of older adults with depression receive treatment as it often goes undiagnosed or is mistaken for the effects of ongoing medical issues and medications.
Dementia affects approximately 5% of the world’s older population. Today, more than five million Americans live with Alzheimer’s disease, which is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Thirty-three percent of seniors have Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia at the time of their passing. Though scientists are still unsure as to what causes Alzheimer’s, certain factors may increase one’s risk for developing it.
Approximately 8% of seniors over the age of 65 have been diagnosed with anxiety at some point in their lives. Plus, about half of seniors with anxiety also experience depression. Anxiety disorders also often go undiagnosed as seniors are more likely to downplay psychiatric symptoms with a physician. Generalized anxiety disorder, phobias, panic disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder are common forms of anxiety within the senior population.
Though some of the risk factors for developing a mental health disorder are uncontrollable, certain lifestyle choices and medical issues may play a role:
- Chronic illness
- Alcohol or substance abuse
- Loss of a loved one
- Loss of mobility or physical disability
- Poor diet or lack of physical activity
Signs and Symptoms
It is natural to notice small changes in behavior and moments of forgetfulness in an aging loved one. However, the following signs or symptoms may warrant concern:
- Withdrawal from family and friends
- Frequent confusion or disorientation
- A rapid change in weight or appetite
- Sudden mood changes that persist for more than a couple of weeks
- Difficulty with short-term memory
- Unexplained fatigue and changes in sleep habits
- Trouble with executive functioning skills including planning and organizing
If you recognize any of these risk factors, signs, or symptoms in your loved one, start by scheduling an appointment with your trusted family physician. Seeking out help is the first step toward identifying and getting help for any mental health concern.