Early Signs & Symptoms of Mental Health Problems in Senior People

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Early Signs & Symptoms of Mental Health Problems in Senior People

In 2022, speaking of mental health concerns without shame is finally becoming normal. However, the topic of mental health has only started to become destigmatized recently; and some areas are still not as widely discussed as they should be. One of them is certainly the risks senior citizens face in this regard.

As you might already know, the world is positively aging. While increasing longevity is certainly a triumph of our modern age; it also brings forth a number of challenges to the aging population. In addition, these challenges are often not taken seriously due to the misconception that negative mental health changes are a normal and inevitable part of the aging process. However, symptoms of the former should not be confused with the latter and should be acted upon in order to improve the life quality of the senior in question.

Mental illnesses are defined as conditions that affect how a person thinks, feels, and behaves. They can cause a disturbance to one’s ability to deal with the ordinary routines of day-to-day life. Mental illnesses that most commonly affect the aging population are depression, anxiety disorders, and cognitive impairment (dementia.) While all of these have symptoms that can help one identify them; mental health issues still often go unrecognized and untreated in the elderly.

Here’s some information to help you protect your loved ones; and act as soon as you notice signs of mental health disturbances. These are the early signs & symptoms of mental health problems in senior people.

Mental health risk factors in seniors

First, you should understand where the issues’ root may lie. Of course, everyone experiences some level of stress and distress at some point, regardless of what stage of their life. However, there are certain changes that come with old age. In particular, that need to be acknowledged as they are serious risk factors that can lead to the deterioration of mental health. Here are the risk factors that can lead to mental distress in seniors.

Lifestyle changes that come with retirement

Some people dream of their retirement; others dread it. One thing is true, though: retirement can completely change one’s lifestyle and routine, and some people adapt to these changes more efficiently than others. Work gives us a sense of purpose, and doing well at our jobs boosts our self-esteem. Once retired, one can experience a dilemma about who they are and what their purpose is. This can further be escalated by financial issues associated with retirement.

Loneliness and loss of loved ones

Another cause of the emergence of mental health issues in seniors is a continued shrinking of their social circles. With retirement, their number of contacts naturally decreases. With old age, they may also experience some of their friends and loved ones passing away; which can be difficult to accept. They may develop a tendency to isolate themselves, which can result in loneliness. Loneliness is a dangerous thing that should most definitely be minded. Taking measures to mitigate loneliness and isolation is thus paramount.

Chronic pain and illness

The next major mental health risk factor for seniors is physical health issues. Chronic pain and illness affect your quality of life; they make it difficult to do and enjoy things you normally enjoy and combined with the constant discomfort, this can easily make you feel depressed.

Reduced mobility

Aging comes with reduced mobility as well, and if this takes extreme forms or even the form of disability; it can seriously affect the mental health of the person in question. Just like with chronic pain and illness, the person in question may not be able to do some things they were doing before, which can give them a sense of loss of independence.

Medication side-effects

The side effects of some medications or the way different medications interact can also cause mood shifts. In these cases, it may be difficult to tell whether we’re talking about mental illness or the effects of said medications. Consulting your doctor in such cases is paramount.

Poor nutrition

Healthy nutrition is a pillar of our well-being, and poor nutrition can lead to or further escalate the emergence of mental health issues. As we age, our appetite may decrease. In addition, the deterioration of dental health may also lead to a more selective diet.

Having to take care of someone else

While taking care of a loved one who needs it is certainly noble and rewarding, it is also incredibly exhausting, both physically and mentally. In case they are dealing with a serious illness, the situation becomes even more difficult. It can lead you to neglect your own physical health and make you more susceptible to developing mental health woes, too. It’s essential to recognize your own limits in these cases and look into palliative care that specializes in alleviating the discomforts of such patients.

What are the signs and symptoms to look out for?

Mental health issues may be more difficult to identify at a glance, but they certainly exhibit symptoms. Paying attention to your loved ones can help you give them the necessary help before things get complicated at the beginning phases of the issue. Staying vigilant is especially important if your loved one is living alone, which can further contribute to deteriorating mental health. Here are some of the signs to watch out for.

Sudden changes to their mood

Mood changes are symptoms of several kinds of mental illness. Some mood changes are expected. But notice extended periods of sudden mood changes where your loved one goes through a range of emotions from cheerful through depressed, anxious, dejected to confident and energetic, seemingly unpredictably. It may be a sign of mental illness. Besides depression, these kinds of sudden changes are also symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

They have become socially withdrawn

As mentioned earlier, isolation and social withdrawal are dangerous. Still, seniors who have entered retirement or are suffering from reduced mobility or other physical issues may be at risk of developing this tendency. If you notice that your loved one no longer takes part in social gatherings like they used to and avoids going out in general, it may be a sign.

Their personal care dwindles

Depression and other mental illnesses make staying on top of personal care difficult. However, maintaining personal hygiene is necessary for good health, and mental health symptoms such as this one can lead to further complications for this reason. Everyone’s personal care routine is different, so it will be up to you to notice if there have been any changes to your loved one’s recently.

A changed appearance or surroundings

As we just said, a change to one’s personal care routine can indicate an underlying issue at hand. One of the ways this may manifest is in their appearance or surroundings. For instance, if your loved one looks unkempt, has stopped putting on makeup despite always having done so, is not dressing the way they used to, or their clothes are not neat, they may be struggling, and you should consider talking to them. Similarly, if they have always kept their surroundings clean and organized, but their home is now messy, it may also be a sign.

They are experiencing memory problems

Some lapses of memory are normal. Everyone forgets certain trivial things from time to time. However, when this takes on the form of regular memory problems, you should take it seriously. Some things to watch out for are misplacing things, asking for the same information repeatedly, failing to recognize someone they know, forgetting important appointments, and so on. Loss of memory is not a “normal part of aging;” it can be a sign of a serious issue like dementia. When this is combined with other physical illnesses, independent living may become outright dangerous.

Weight changes

Another symptom that can signal a mental health issue at hand is a noticeable change to the person’s weight (and eating habits in general.) We have already discussed why nutrition can be a risk factor for the elderly. It’s important to note that a loss of appetite and decreased weight are not the only sign out there. Sudden weight gain can also be a warning sign.

The first step to recognizing and treating mental health issues in older adults is understanding that mental health should be taken just as seriously as physical health. The two go hand in hand together, and if one suffers, it will most likely affect the other one, too. The only way to treat issues when they arise is by noticing them; hopefully, this list will help you with that.

Featured photo by Sven Mieke on Unsplash
Frank Robertson

My name is Frank Robertson. I’m a writer. I choose my topics carefully and try to write about topics that can help my readers.

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