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Supporting Older Adults Through Mental Illness

Supporting Older Adults Through Mental Illness, Mental Illness Among Seniors

Fewer than half of all seniors with mental health concerns receive treatment. There is a tendency to dismiss the mental health concerns of older adults as a normal part of the aging process. While it is true that people do change throughout their lives, when an older person shows signs of mental illness, it is important that they be given support and treatment. At Carolina Dunes Behavioral Health in Leland, North Carolina, we provide geriatric psychiatric care in our inpatient program for seniors, and we work with their families to ensure they know how to support their older loved ones.

Prevalence of Mental Illness Among Seniors

Around 14 percent of seniors over the age of 60 have a mental health diagnosis, and the world’s population is aging. By 2050, it is estimated that around one in six people will be over the age of 65. Depression and anxiety are two of the most common mental health disorders to impact elderly adults. Globally, seniors account for more than a quarter of all suicide deaths. The failure to recognize and respond to signs of mental illness in this population may contribute to the high number of suicides.

Risk Factors of Mental Illness Among Seniors

The things that can contribute to mental illness among seniors aren’t so different from what can contribute to mental health disorders among younger people:

  • Loss
      • Death of a spouse or other loved ones can be particularly difficult for men, particularly those who never served in the military
      • Decreased independence
      • Reduced sense of purpose due to retirement from work and children being grown
  • Social isolation and loneliness can result from decreased independence and loss of loved ones, and they are just as dangerous to health as smoking or obesity.
  • Ageism focuses on the “burden” older adults place on society and fails to recognize the valuable assets they have to offer, such as resilience, wisdom, compassion, and knowledge. Often seniors also provide childcare, household maintenance, and meal preparation for working family members, who depend on their assistance.
  • Abuse of all types: physical, sexual, financial, verbal, psychological. Abuse can also come in the form of neglect
  • Physical health conditions, particularly ones that lead to severe, chronic pain; mobility issues, and communication barriers.
  • Failure to access mental health services – this could be the result of a shortage of mental health practitioners in the area, inability to utilize telehealth, lack of transportation, insufficient insight into their own mental health, or other factors.

Protective Factors

Just as certain risk factors can increase the chances of an older person developing mental health conditions, other life conditions can reduce their risk. Caregivers and other members of a senior’s support system can work to increase these protective factors to help their loved one maintain good mental health:

  • Adequate financial resources
  • Safe and accessible housing
  • Access to public transportation and buildings
  • Social support and connection
  • Healthy, balanced diet
  • Active lifestyle
  • Protection from ageism and abuse

Signs of Mental Illness in Seniors

Sometimes, despite being well-loved and supported, people still develop mental health concerns. By knowing the warning signs of mental illness, caregivers can identify red flags and pursue more rapid treatment for their elderly loved ones. Some of the most common indicators of behavioral health concerns in seniors include:

  • Prolonged grief or sadness, potentially accompanied by thoughts of suicide
  • Hallucinations, delusions, or disordered thinking
  • Noncompliance with medications
  • Agitation, aggression, or inappropriate verbal or vocal activity
  • Abrupt change in mental functioning
  • Increased use of alcohol or other substances
  • Sundown syndrome – a state of confusion and agitation that tends to arise in the late afternoon or evening

Even if your loved one is not showing these specific signs, it is important to realize that mental health concerns can manifest differently from one person to the next. If you feel like something is wrong, help your loved one get to their doctor for an evaluation.

At Carolina Dunes Behavioral Health, we are passionate about supporting older adults with mental health concerns and their families. Our acute care services include around-the-clock monitoring, physical supervision, medication management, and several types of therapy. We work with each of our patients and their support systems to plan a smooth discharge, starting at the time of admission.

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About programs offered at Carolina Dunes Behavioral Health

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