Mental illness figures among the elderly are absolutely baffling. Recent reports suggest that between 15-20% of all people aged 65 and above have some form of mental illness. Sadly, most of these people are undiagnosed.
The reasons for this current predicament include:
- The elderly are less likely to report a mental health issue compared to young adults.
- The stigma associated with mental health issues might deter an elderly person from reporting a mental health issue.
- Most symptoms of mental health are disregarded as normal signs of healthy aging.
This puts a greater responsibility on the caretakers of the elderly to spot the signs of mental illness. Below are the most common signs that you should look out for.
This is usually the first sign of mental illness in the elderly. Sadly, most of the times people dismiss memory loss as a normal sign of aging.
However, it may point to serious mental health issues such as Dementia and Alzheimers.
“Dementia patients have a progressive brain condition that can impair their thinking and memory, as well as negatively impact their behavior.
Dementia gets worse over time, but proper medication and treatment can slow down its progression.” Jane Byrne, Project Coordinator from FirstCare
The signs of memory loss are clear and they get severe as time goes by. Most people start misplacing things and forgetting important dates.
Change in sleeping patterns
The ability to get enough and regular sleep is a pointer towards good mental health. A change in sleeping patterns can signal the beginning of a mental illness such as depression.
Again, this symptom is almost always disregarded as a normal sign of aging.
You should take note if the elderly person you are taking care of is complaining of lack of sleep over a period of time.
It could point towards mental illness. Remember, the brain controls one’s sleeping patterns. And once the brain’s performance deteriorates, the body’s system gets affected as well.
Changes in mood
Drastic changes in mood might signal the onset of mental illness in an elderly person. Such changes have to substantial for it to be a sign of mental illness.
For example, an often cheerful person might suddenly appear reserved or a silent person suddenly becomes talkative.
Though the latter might seem good, it can still be a sign that there’s an underlying mental health problem on that person.
It is recommended that if you note such a change occurring for a period of two weeks to a month then you should seek medical advice.
Changes in daily patterns
You should check to see if the elderly person starts prescribing to a different daily pattern. The best tell-tale sign is usually a change in grooming patterns.
It could be something subtle like failing to put on makeup or something drastic like skipping baths.
You should, however, be careful not to point towards mental health issues at the slightest change of grooming patterns.
For example, you shouldn’t be quick to blame mental issues if the elderly person suddenly decides to grow a beard.
The change in grooming has to affect them adversely for it to raise suspicion.
Little to zero self-care
Anything can happen in our lives. Good thing we have the natural capability to cope up with almost any situation, that is, however, if you have no mental condition.
Seniors who have mental illness are unable to take care of themselves properly, even in the most basic of ways.
A good example of this would be not taking a bath or skipping daily personal care tasks such as combing one’s hair or applying makeup.
Look for signs of changes in personal appearance as this can be a sign of an underlying mental health problem.
You’ll also notice if something’s not right with their smell as patients usually don’t care if they urinated properly or not. Lack of hygiene is common for seniors who have a mental illness.
Sudden weight changes
Another tell-tale sign that a person has a mental illness is if they experience sudden weight changes.
Also, changes in their appetite can also be a symptom of a serious condition.
Depression can cause eating disorders as this removes their “motivation” to eat and to nourish themselves.
This, then leads to further deterioration of their physical and mental health, thus making their condition far worse.
Sudden periods of sadness and withdrawal from social activities may point to mental illness.
At times, this sadness is accompanied by feelings of hopelessness and in the extreme suicidal thoughts tend to appear.
No matter what other people do to cheer them up, they still choose to remain sad even to the point of shutting themselves away from the public, or worse, their families.
A person who distances themselves from people, places, or buildings is also a sign that they might have a mental illness.
These people feel hopeless about anything wherein they believe that nothing gets better. This is the usual case of people who know that they have the mental illness.
Because of this, it would be best to let patients undergo counseling so that they can accept their condition in a positive way.
If these signs appear then you should quickly consult a physician for help.
The elderly will rarely admit that they have a problem. This means that it is up to you to identify these signs and convince them that the best course of action is to visit a physician.
Always expect the worst case scenario. And as much as possible, find a way to deal with their condition in the sooner possible time to prevent further complications.
Your keen eye might aid in the diagnosis of a mental illness that can be treated or managed effectively when noticed early.
You owe it to that person to help them age healthily. Who knows? One day you might also need help as well.