Knowing how to properly take care of an elderly loved one’s mental health can be just as important as taking care of their physical health. Many symptoms often go either unnoticed or ignored concerning the mental health of elderly patients, causing two-thirds of seniors who need help with their mental health do not receive the treatment that they need. Thankfully there are many ways to spot symptoms, an important aspect when considering the correct treatments in order to help your loved ones.
To aid in combating this crisis, we have created a guide to help teach more about the varying mental health concerns in the elderly. This guide includes:
- Age-Related Mental Health Issues
- Common symptoms of depression and anxiety in elderly adults
- What to do when your elderly parent is showing symptoms of depression or anxiety
- How to help your loved one, and find support for the both of you
Age-related mental health issues facing senior adults
Mental health issues are incredibly common amongst seniors with at least one in four older adults experiencing some sort of mental disorder. The most common include, but are not limited to depression and anxiety disorders. These conditions can also be grouped when presenting in patients, the symptoms of one working themselves into the symptoms of other conditions.
What are common symptoms of depression in elderly adults?
The signs of Depression in elderly adults are different from those seen in children and young-adults, making them more difficult to spot off-hand than in most people. Adding to this difficulty, older people are significantly less likely to talk about the emotional symptoms of depression. This may be because of the still-present stigmas surrounding mental health, medical conditions making it difficult to communicate concerns, or because people often find it hard to admit that they may have a problem in the first place.
Because of this, it is important for caregivers who suspect or want to monitor a parent's or loved one's mental health to note the differing symptoms of depression in the elderly which can include:
- Experiencing physical symptoms such as dizziness, aches and pains, weight loss, and insomnia.
- Dramatic change in behavior, including: not leaving the house, not eating, imbibing in alcohol more often than before, hoarding random items, and not enjoying things they used to enjoy
- Excessive thoughts and actions concerning the end-of-life, including but not limited to: the giving away of personal possessions, changing a will, or talking a lot about death. These can be signs of suicidal thoughts and should be taken very seriously.
It's important to note, dementia can cause similar symptoms to depression, and depression can be an early warning sign of possible dementia. Make sure to keep track of your and your loved one's concerns or any symptoms – BAYADA's Doctor Visit Checklist can help – to discuss with your medical team.
What are common symptoms of anxiety in elderly adults?
Similar to depression, spotting anxiety in seniors can be made more difficult due to the stigma behind discussing mental health issues.
- Uncontrollable feelings of panic, fear, and/or apprehension
- Obsessive thoughts
- Reactions that are disproportional to the triggering fear
- Trouble with memory and focus
- Refusal to engage in routine activities
- Ritualistic behaviors (e.g., repeated handwashing)
Though it is more commonly found in older women, anxiety can affect any senior for a variety of reasons and may show up as a variety of symptoms. Some of the things caregivers can keep an eye on in a senior who may have anxiety include:
- Racing heart, or heart palpitations
- Hot flashes
- Frequent urination
- Shortness of breath
- Tense muscles
- Excessive sweating
- Cold or sweaty hands
- Dry mouth
What to do when your elderly loved one is depressed?
Research suggests that like most people, the elderly benefit from supportive social connections and close personal relationships. Suffering often results from the loneliness that comes from disrupted personal ties. Helping to maintain a strong social circle is a simple, but highly effective way to help combat symptoms of depression.
It is also important to remember that it is never too late to get treatment for depression and anxiety. If diagnosed and treated, elderly patients have the same chances of getting better as younger ones.
How to help an elderly loved one with anxiety
Ask them to talk it out: Oftentimes, sharing our thoughts and feelings can help us feel less anxious and alone. Consider having them join a support group for those with anxiety disorders, or ask them to talk it out with a trusted friend, family member, or spiritual leader.
Help them learn to manage their stress: Meditation, yoga, deep breathing, and other stress management techniques can help relieve the physical symptoms of anxiety.
Have them avoid stimulants: Things like caffeine, nicotine, over-the-counter cold medications, and alcohol can worsen anxiety disorder symptoms.
Make sure they get plenty of sleep: Sleeplessness can directly impact anxiety, often worsening it by up to 30% the following day. Older adults should aim to get 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night on average.
If you suspect your loved one is showing signs or symptoms of depression or anxiety, it's important to reach out to your medical team and discuss your concerns.
How to help your loved one, and find support for the both of you
At the end of the day, if you think your loved one may be exhibiting symptoms towards anxiety and/or depression, it is best to seek out advice from a trusted medical professional. Together you can go over necessary resources, what you need to know to help best, and how to build the best treatment plan that works for you and your loved one.
The information provided on this blog is intended for general informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.