Aging at Home Alzheimer's & Dementia Wellbeing

How to Recognize Mental Health Problems in the Elderly

How to Recognize Mental Health Problems in the Elderly

According to the CDC, about 20% of adults aged 55 years or older suffer from a mental health problem. Mental health problems can be challenging to diagnose in any population, but they can be especially tricky to identify in aging adults. Some unique complications and factors come into play when diagnosing mental health problems in the elderly. 

This blog post will define mental health, discuss why elderly adults are more at risk for mental health problems, and give signs you can watch for in your aging loved ones. We will also discuss options for treatment and prevention of mental health problems in aging adults.


What is Mental Health?

Mental health is a term used to describe a person’s overall emotional and psychological well-being. Mental health includes our ability to cope with stress, manage our emotions, and make healthy choices. When problems with mental health arise, they can affect how a person:

  • Thinks
  • Feels
  • Acts
  • Handles Stress
  • Relates to Others
  • Makes Choices

A mentally healthy person can function in their day-to-day lives and reach their full potential. However, when mental health is not in good shape, it can negatively affect daily life. Mental health problems can make working, studying, and taking care of our relationships difficult.


How to Recognize Mental Health Problems in the Elderly


Special Considerations for the Elderly

The elderly population is particularly vulnerable to mental health problems. One concern is that it can be easy to miss the signs of mental illness in older adults. They may be hesitant to talk about it due to embarrassment or fear. They may not realize how much it is impacting their life. 

Additionally, many elderly adults have other health problems that can mask the symptoms of mental illness. For example, an older adult dealing with dementia may become agitated and aggressive. This could be a sign of underlying mental health problems or a symptom of dementia itself. It can be difficult to determine which is which without a professional evaluation.

Another consideration is that the elderly are more likely to experience certain risk factors for mental health problems. These can include:

  • Loneliness and isolation
  • Chronic pain
  • Inability to care for oneself
  • Loss of mobility
  • Frequent moves or changes in living situation
  • Financial problems
  • Grief and loss

Because of these increased risk factors, it is essential to be aware of the signs of mental health problems in your elderly loved ones. We’ve gathered ten warning signs to help you catch problems early and get them the help they need.


10 Signs of Mental Health Problems in the Elderly

Mental health problems can manifest in many different ways. Here are ten signs to look out for:

1. A change in eating habits. 

One of the first places you might see a difference is in your loved one’s eating habits. They may start to eat significantly more or less than they used to. They may miss meals or excuse themself without eating. You might also notice changes in their appetite or weight.

2. Neglecting hygiene. 

Another sign that something may be wrong is if your loved one starts to neglect their hygiene. A few examples are irregular bathing or showering, not brushing their teeth, or not taking care of their hair. They may also start to wear the same clothes repeatedly or not bother to put on makeup or do their nails.

A few signs of neglected hygiene include:

  • wearing dirty clothes
  • having body odor
  • bad breath
  • neglected teeth and nails
  • sores on the skin

While these signs can also indicate physical health issues and failing health, it’s important to recognize that mental health is often at the root. Your loved one may be depressed or experiencing anxiety, leading to them neglecting their appearance or hygiene. Be especially aware of changes that are drastically different from their usual behavior.

3. Neglecting their home. 

Another sign that something may be wrong is if your loved one starts to neglect their home. This can mean they are not doing basic cleaning, such as vacuuming or dusting. It can also mean they are not doing laundry or keeping up with other household chores. In extreme cases, it may even mean that they are not leaving their home at all.

The biggest thing to pay attention to is any significant or noticeable change in cleanliness. If your loved one’s home was always clean and tidy and is now cluttered or dirty, it could signify that something is wrong.

4. Exhibiting inappropriate behaviors. 

Another sign that something may be wrong is if your loved one starts to display inappropriate behavior. This can mean they are acting out in ways that are not socially acceptable, such as swearing or making lewd comments. It can also mean they engage in risky behaviors, such as driving recklessly or gambling excessively.

Some forms of inappropriate behavior can be subtle, while others are obvious. Watch for behaviors such as:

  • Being unusually loud or quiet
  • Experiencing an increase in paranoia
  • Agitation
  • Making phone calls at late hours or with a significant increase in frequency
  • Giving unusual or unexplained gifts

5. Changed relationship patterns.

One of the most common signs that something may be wrong is changing relationship patterns. This can mean your loved one is withdrawing from friends and family or no longer participating in activities they used to enjoy. It can also mean they have difficulty maintaining relationships or begin engaging in behaviors such as excessive arguing or fighting. 

The people closest to your loved one will often be the first to notice this, so pay close attention if their friends or relations express concern.

6. Decreased participation in activities they used to enjoy. 

Another sign that something may be wrong is reduced participation in activities your loved one used to enjoy. This can mean they are no longer interested in hobbies or activities they once enjoyed. It can also mean they are not going out as much or are not socializing as much as they used to.

It can be easy to miss this sign, so it’s crucial to pay attention to their interests and take action if you notice a significant change.

7. Forgetfulness. 

One of the most common signs of mental health problems in the elderly is forgetfulness. This can mean your loved one forgets things more often than usual or has difficulty remembering recent events. It can also mean they fail to do something or are losing track of time. Subtle signs of forgetfulness include:

  • Unopened mail
  • Newspapers piling up
  • Unfilled prescriptions
  • Missed appointments

8. Mishandled finances. 

Another sign that something may be wrong is a change in your loved one’s financial habits. This often presents as unpaid or overpaid bills, lost money, or hiding money. They may make poor financial decisions or have large amounts of money unaccounted for.

9. Unusual purchases. 

An older adult with mental health problems may make strange or unnecessary purchases. Notable purchases, such as expensive items or large amounts of food, can signal that something is wrong. You may notice that they:

  • Are donating large sums of money
  • Entering substantial amounts of contests
  • Frequently purchasing online or from TV advertisements
  • Buying lavish gifts for themselves or others

10. Physical problems or more frequent injuries. 

One of the less obvious signs of mental health problems in the elderly is physical problems or injuries. This can include falls, bruises, and cuts that happen more often than usual. It can also include a sudden increase in accidents or illnesses. 

You may notice more injuries caused by weakness or forgetfulness, or you may suspect they are a result of misusing alcohol or prescribed medications. Physical injury caused by mental health can be challenging to spot, as it is often chalked up to age or clumsiness.


How to Recognize Mental Health Problems in the Elderly


Complications and Diagnosis of Mental Health Problems In The Elderly

Mental health problems in the elderly are often complicated by other issues, such as physical health problems, social isolation, and poverty, making diagnosis and treatment difficult. In addition, mental health issues can exacerbate physical health problems and vice versa. People with mental health problems have an increased risk of cardiac problems and death from physical illnesses. For these reasons, mental health must be treated as seriously as physical health.

If you are concerned that your loved one may be experiencing mental health problems, don’t assume they are getting help or that it will pass on its own. Talk to them about your concerns and let them know you are there for them. And don’t be afraid to include their doctor or mental health professional in the conversation to ensure they get the help they need.


Treatment and Prevention of Mental Health for Seniors

Treatment of mental health problems in the elderly often includes medication, therapy, and support from family and friends. In some cases, hospitalization may be necessary. While many people will struggle with these problems at some point in their later years, proper care and support can help prevent or reduce the severity of mental health problems.

Start by talking to your loved ones. Engage with them, and listen to their thoughts and concerns. This is an essential step in catching problems early, but it’s also a powerful prevention and treatment method. Feelings of connection and love improve mental health and quality of life. 

Additionally, make sure they are getting proper medical care, including regular check-ups with their doctor, and being proactive about any changes in their health. 

Finally, keep an eye on their living situation. If they are isolated or live in poor conditions, mental health problems can worsen. Try to help them find social activities or support groups and ensure they have a safe place to live.

Mental health problems in the elderly are often complex and can be difficult to spot. However, they don’t have to be a definitive part of aging. Many can be prevented or treated with proper care and support. And no matter their age, it’s possible for everyone to live a happy and fulfilling life.

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