Older adults (those aged above 65) make an essential contribution to society both as family members and in the workforce. Unfortunately, seniors are at more risk of developing neurological and mental disorders. It is estimated that between 2015 and 2050, the number of people aged over 60 years will have nearly doubled from 900 million to 2 billion (from 12% to 22%). Most common mental illnesses affecting older people are dementia, depression and anxiety. According to the American Psychiatric Association, older people in the US don’t seek treatment when suffering from mental illness because they are ashamed of talking about it or they think that it is a natural part of aging.
Why older adults are more at risk
Mental illness can affect anyone at any point in life. However, studies have shown that older adults are more at risk because mainly because of the significant decline in their functional abilities. For instance, seniors are more at risk of suffering from chronic pain, health problems and reduced mobility. Additionally, they are more likely to experience a drop in their socioeconomic status or even lose someone close to them, which can result in mental health. Older adults are also more susceptible to sexual, verbal, physical, financial and psychological abuse which can lead to mental illness if appropriate action is not taken fast.
Tips on how to approach mental illness in seniors
1. Don’t ignore signs of mental illness
A common mistake that most people make is ignoring signs of mental illness until it becomes profound. As they say, prevention is better than cure. As a caregiver, if you suspect that your loved one has a mental illness, then you need to take action immediately. According to data from the CDC, one in three seniors showing signs of mental illness doesn’t get treatment on time. Common symptoms of mental illness include:
- Decrease in appetite
- Mood swings lasting for more than two weeks
- Thoughts of suicide
- Problems with decision making
- Memory loss
- Loss of interest in doing things that used to be fun
The Geriatric Mental Foundation urges caregivers to seek treatment if their loved ones are experiencing the symptoms mentioned above. Early treatment can help treat the condition early before it progresses to advanced stages that are more complicated to manage.
2. Get treatment immediately
Dealing with mental illness is difficult for seniors. However, it is not a death sentence. With the right treatment, mental illness can be reversed. Typically, mental illness treatment includes a combination of medication, healthy living skills and talk therapy. The exact combination given depends on the unique problem of the patient. Most older adults get treatment because they are ashamed or feel that it is not essential. It is upon you as the caregiver to ensure that the senior receives the right treatment and on time.
Jayne Byrne, Project Coordinator at a nursing home in Bray comments that “If you notice someone, particularly if they are over the age of 65, forgetting things, or finding it easier to remember things that have long since passed, then it is perhaps time to go to the doctors. If dementia is caught earlier, then this will give you many more options for treatment.“
3. Find support
Taking care of an older adult who is suffering from mental illness is not easy. Sometimes it can be too much for a family to handle. It is, therefore, crucial to seek support, often from people who are in your shoes. Joining a support group will help you meet other people experiencing a similar problem. This will help you feel less alone and more connected because you are all going through similar challenges. Additionally, they will help you know how to deal with your loved one to help him/her recover fast.
In conclusion, the way you approach mental illness in seniors will determine if the condition will be reversed or not. Don’t wait until the problem gets out of hand, instead seek professional help immediately. Although deadly to seniors, mental illness is not a death sentence; it only requires love and the right treatment.