About 20 percent of people 55 and older have experienced some type of mental health concern, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Depression is the most common mental health problem among seniors. Other geriatric mental health issues include anxiety, severe cognitive impairment, and other mood disorders.
A variety of factors put seniors at greater risk for developing a geriatric mental health issue, including physical disabilities, chronic illness, moving to an assisted living facility or other change of environment, loss of a spouse, medication interactions and substance abuse. Mental health issues can make it difficult for seniors to stay on course for healthy aging.
One of the primary problems with diagnosis and treatment of mental illness in seniors is that older people are more likely to report their medical problems than their mental health issues. Because seniors are often reluctant to admit to mental health problems, it is frequently up to family members to recognize the signs of mental illness in an older person.
Ten signs of a geriatric mental health issue:
- A depressed mood or sadness that lasts longer than two weeks
- Withdrawal from friends and favorite pastimes
- Unexplained fatigue, lackluster energy levels, changes in sleep patterns
- Appearing confused, disoriented, having problems concentrating or making decisions
- Unexplained change appetite or weight
- Recent or short-term memory problems
- Feelings of worthlessness, helplessness, inappropriate guilt; suicidal thoughts or actions
- Unexplained physical problems, such as aches or constipation
- A change in appearance, hygiene, dress, or home maintenance
- Trouble with home finances or working with numbers
Accurate diagnosis of a geriatric health issue and early treatment improve the chances of a good outcome. Anyone concerned about their own mental health or the health of a loved one should consult with a counselor, a psychologist, or a geriatric psychiatrist – geriatric counseling can help. With the combined efforts of mental healthcare professionals, family members and caregivers, seniors can stay on the right track to healthy aging.