Mental health disorders are not an uncommon experience. In fact, around 20% of U.S. adults battle a mental health concern like anxiety or depression—but of all age groups, seniors are the least likely to seek treatment for these conditions. When these concerns go undetected, they can worsen, and worsen feelings of isolation in seniors.
As there are various symptoms of a mental health condition, it’s important to understand the risk factors and early signs of concern. From anxiety to depression, these problems can come in many forms, and every individual experiences them differently.
Keep reading to learn about some common senior mental health risks and signs that may indicate your loved one is struggling with a mental illness.
Senior Mental Health Risks
While any senior can develop mental health problems, there are risk factors that make some people more prone to these conditions. Unfortunately, the common emotional and physical stresses that come along with aging can impact the risk of experiencing mental illness. If you have an older loved one in your family, it’s important to monitor their health and ensure they’re seen for routine health checkups. And if your loved one lives alone or doesn’t socialize as they once did, checking in on them is even more essential.
Several conditions and experiences can lead to developing a mental health condition. Here are some common risk factors that can lead to a mental health disorder:
- Dementia-causing illnesses
- Alcohol abuse
- Substance use
- Death of a loved one
- Chronic illness or pain
- Physical disability
- Medication interactions
- Loss of mobility
- Poor diet
If you or a loved one is experiencing any of the above, it’s important to monitor their symptoms and seek medical attention if needed. Knowing there’s a mental health disorder can be difficult to detect, so you'll want to keep an eye out for any changes in mood, emotions, or personality.
Common Symptoms of Mental Health Disorders
While a mental health disorder can be obvious in some scenarios, it can feel impossible to detect in others. This makes it especially important to know the common signs and symptoms. As old age can lead to normal health problems, some complications deserve professional medication attention. Even if it's “just” anxiety or depression, these are disorders that can drastically interfere with the quality of life and stop your loved one from spending time with friends and family or pursuing activities they enjoy.
Here are some common warning signs that could indicate a mental health issue:
- Abnormal fatigue or loss of energy
- Low appetite or changes in weight
- Problems with thinking and concentration
- Feeling confused or disoriented
- Problems with home upkeep, such as maintaining a yard or keeping up with dirty dishes
- Decrease in mood lasting longer than two weeks
- Feelings of hopelessness or guilt
- Thoughts of suicide
- Memory problems, short or long term
- Loss of interest in activities they typically enjoy
- Issues with finances
- Physical symptoms that can’t be explained
If you notice your loved one experiencing any of the problems above, their quality of life is in the balance. To restore their happiness and do what’s right for their health, it’s vital to seek professional help. Additionally, showing your love and support goes a long way. Make sure your loved one knows you’re always there as a helping hand.
Assessing Senior Mental Health Issues
Diagnosing and treating senior mental health conditions can be difficult because this age group is less likely to report psychiatric issues in the first place. While seniors often tell doctors about their physical ailments, understanding their mental health is a steeper mountain to climb.
That being said, it’s important to speak with your loved one about where their mental health currently stands. While it doesn’t have to be part of your daily regimen, you’ll want to periodically ask them how they’re feeling. But more than that, you’ll want to get professional treatment if it’s needed.
Before calling a doctor to treat a mental health disorder, look at the following areas to determine whether a consultation with a professional is necessary:
- Everyday tasks: Can they take care of the basic needs of everyday life, such as cooking, dressing, or eating?
- Mood and mental outlook: Do they seem depressed or down? Are you noticing any feelings of hopelessness or loss of interest?
- Physical health: Is there any physical pain? Do they have discomfort anywhere in their body?
- Medications: Are they able to keep up with a medication schedule? Do you notice any medication side effects or related symptoms?
Many of the symptoms of mental health disorders overlap with other common concerns for older adults, like memory loss diseases such as dementia, making it more difficult to know the underlying cause for your loved one’s mood changes. If you feel like your senior loved one’s mood or personality has changed drastically lately, make sure to address it with them and schedule a visit with their primary care doctor to assess and seek proper care.