Did you know that about 20 percent of adults aged 55 or older have experienced some type of mental health concern?
Nearly one in three of those seniors do not receive treatment.
Mental illness in seniors is hard to diagnose and is under-diagnosed or mistaken for other chronic health conditions.
The truth is, addressing mental health issues in older populations requires paying more attention, not less, when it comes to aging adults.
"With the elderly, we see physical problems. Inability to do the things they used to be able to do. Now they are more restricted in their activities, and they find themselves at a loss. Also, unfortunately as people get older, they start to lose more friends, more family, and become more isolated. So a generational aspect compounds the mental health aspect," said Medical Director of Psychiatry at Bayview Behavioral Hospital Dr. John Lusins.
Seniors also tend to downplay their symptoms to family, caregivers, and their doctors, making mental illness difficult to spot.
"If you see signs such as your loved ones talking about being hopeless, worthless, having less energy, less interest, they are just isolating when previously they were up and about and joining in family activities. It could be things like dementia, depression, or anxiety," said Dr. Lusins.
The good news is, when accurately diagnosed, mental health issues are just as treatable in older populations as in younger, but it takes commitment and understanding.
"One of the things we try to do is a multi-pronged approach to mental health in the elderly. Looking, of course, at the biological aspect with medications, but we also encourage therapy and socialization, making sure they have the proper resources. We also can hook up people with home health agencies that can go into the home to insure things are safe and that medications are dispensed properly," said Dr. Lusins.
About 5 percent of depression in the elderly go undiagnosed. Being educated about the warning signs can help make detection of mental illness easier for loved ones and care givers.
Facts about mental illness in the elderly
Causes and Risk Factors for Senior Mental Illness
One of the ongoing problem with diagnosis and treatment of mental illness in seniors is the fact that older adults are more likely to report physical symptoms than psychiatric complaints (CDC).
The Geriatric Mental Health Foundation lists a number of potential triggers for mental illness in the elderly:
Symptoms of Mental Illness
As our loved ones age, it's natural for some changes to occur. Regular forgetfulness is one thing, however; persistent memory loss or cognitive impairment is another thing and potentially serious. The same goes for extreme anxiety or long-term depression. Caregivers should keep an eye out for the following warning signs, which could indicate a mental health concern:
Don't hesitate to seek help if your loved one is experiencing any of the symptoms. There are professionals out there willing and able to help, including your family doctor, who is always a good place to start.
You could also consult a counselor, a psychologist, or a geriatric psychiatrist.
Bayview Behavioral Hospital is another important resource.
There is a dedicated Geriatric Inpatient treatment program for individuals ages 50 and older who are experiencing emotional, cognitive or behavioral symptoms.
The important part is not to stand by and suffer alone. With the combined efforts of families, caregivers, and mental health professionals, we can help ward off mental illness in our older loved ones and make sure they are on the right track to healthy aging.
To find help in the Corpus Christi area, visit Corpus Christi Medical Center at www.ccmedicalcenter.com.
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