According to studies, the elderly are at a greater risk for developing mental disorders. Alzheimer's and dementia are the primary reasons for mental health care for elders, but other mental illnesses, such as depression, can contribute to a decline in their health.
Mental Disorder Care Services For Elders
Elderly Mental Health Statistics in Canada
The World Health Organization has reported that by the year 2050, the world's elderly population will increase from approximately 12% to 22%, jumping from 900 million to two billion in a matter of three decades. Most health care systems in the world are ill-equipped to adequately handle to projected spike in mental health problems experienced by people who'll be over the age of 60, unless some serious changes are made.
Common Mental Health Disorders in Older Adults
Depression is one of the most prominent disorders that plagues seniors in Canada. Whether it's a direct result of loneliness caused by living alone with few social interactions or because of a physical ailment, seniors make up a fairly large portion of patients who are either treated for depression or who exhibit undiagnosed symptoms.
While depression and suicide can be mutually exclusive on an individual basis, in some cases the two can be closely associated. In fact, suicide is often a by-product of depression. That's why patients who exhibit signs of depression should be treated through effective suicide and self-harm prevention methods. Seniors living alone or completely independently are particularly at high risk of attempting suicide, especially if they're ill and don't have frequent social interactions or visitors.
Concurrent disorders develop when mental disorders are comingled with substance abuse or dependence. For instance, when people become inebriated on alcohol or hard drugs as a coping mechanism to self-treat their depression or other mental disorders, this is an example of a concurrent disorder.
Dementia is also closely associated with depression and in many cases the latter can even be one of the defining symptoms of the former. Contrary to popular belief, dementia isn't actually a singular illness; it's actually an umbrella term for a wide range of mental disorders such as Alzheimer's disease, Pick's disease, vascular dementia, dementia caused by Parkinson's disease, dementia combined with Lewy bodies, and so on.
Many mental illnesses also go hand in hand with anxiety disorders. As seniors continue to age and their mental faculties gradually decrease in functionality, their cortisol levels spike which can cause them to feel anxious, stressed, and disoriented even in everyday situations.
Paraphrenia is generally characterized by its two most prominent signifiers: hallucinations and paranoid delusions. The mental capacities and intellect typically remain intact and this is what differentiates this disorder from schizophrenia.
This is an altered state of mind that can affect people of all ages who've experienced potentially traumatizing events or endured high fevers, but it's especially prevalent in people of advanced age. Characterized by symptoms like restlessness and disorientation, this particular mental illness makes it extremely difficult for the patient to decipher reality from their delusions.
There are wide range of delusion disorders such as erotomania, capgras delusion, paranoia, and clinical lycanthropy just to name a few. Patients typically experience some form of delusions to varying degrees, but they don't necessarily experience any hallucinations or thought and mood disorders with this particular mental illness.
Causes of Mental Illness in Seniors
Seniors are just as susceptible (if not more so) of developing mental disorders and illnesses as a direct result of their life experiences. In many cases, their conditions can be particularly pronounced due to the following factors:
Alcohol or substances abuse: Since seniors typically have more access to pharmaceuticals or prescription drugs, they're more likely to overdose on these medications than younger people. Many lonely seniors who live independently also turn to abusing alcohol in their moments of despair.
Change of environment such as moving into assisted living facilities: There's nothing worse than living your entire life independently and taking care of yourself than having that sense of pride and independence snatched away from you against your will. That's exactly what it feels like when older adults are forced to move into assisted living facilities when they'd prefer to continue living in their own homes and this can cause an onset of negative emotions that can eventually fester into mental disorders as time goes on.
Illnesses that cause dementia: These include Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease and Lewy bodies disease. If left untreated for too long, these illnesses can cause severe forms of dementia.
Experiencing the loss of a loved one: Losing a loved one to a disease, natural causes, or any other event is never easy, but for some people it can cause an onset of untapped emotional turmoil which can manifest into a mental illness, especially if those feelings of loss remain unresolved.
Fighting a long-term terminal illness: Many cancer and heart disease patients often also suffer from various mental disorders. The sheer stress of diagnosis, treatment, and not to mention the numerous side effects associated with different treatment methods can take a huge toll on a person's mental health.
Adverse medication interactions: Elderly people who suffer from different mental disorders are typically prescribed numerous medications to help them function. However, this becomes a problem when they start getting disoriented and mix up their medications or accidentally take too many of the same medications and mix certain pills that can have negative interactions. Having a professional caregiver available to your elderly loved one can help keep their medications in order and remind them when it's time to take certain pills.
Physical disability: Considering that a lot of public places still haven't adapted their properties to be more accessible to those with physical disabilities, it can be extremely challenging for elderly people to make their way around without assistance. This lack of accessibility can discourage some people from wanting to leave the comfort of their own homes and it can often cause them to isolate themselves from the world, preferring a life of seclusion instead of feeling like a burden to others.
Physical illnesses that can affect emotion, memory, and thought capacity: Certain physical illnesses can be mentally and emotionally draining for a lot of elderly people. From the symptoms they exhibit right down to the different treatment methods, many illnesses take a huge toll on people's mental and physical health. Additionally, the fear of not knowing how much longer a patient has to live is enough to cause massive stress and anxiety for them.
- Poor diet and malnutrition: Elderly people who are depressed, anxious, or suffer from an illness tend to completely disregard their own well-being and often need someone to care for them and make sure they're maintaining a healthy diet. Malnutrition is caused by severe vitamin and nutrient deficiencies, many of which are essential for strong brain health and functionality.
One of the easiest ways to care for an elderly person's mental illness is to recognize the symptoms and provide the proper treatment, whether it's psychiatric care or medication. And when it comes to elderly mental disorders such as Alzheimer's disease or dementia, remaining in a familiar environment can often slow the progress as well.
Early Signs and Symptoms of Mental Illness in the Elderly
Here are some things you should be looking out for:
Sudden changes in appearance or style along with problems maintaining the home can signify that your elderly loved one is suffering from memory loss.
Confusion, disorientation, difficulty concentrating, and having a hard time making concrete decisions can also indicate that someone may be suffering from some form of memory loss.
Decrease or increase in appetite and rapid changes in a person's weight can be caused by the stress of not being able to remember certain things and feeling insecure about it.
Memory loss can also induce strong feelings of worthlessness, guilt, and even depression because the person feels completely helpless and disoriented frequently.
They may also endure inexplicable physical problems such as aches and pains, indigestion, or even constipation.
The inability to remember things can also lead to social withdrawal, loss of interest in things they used to enjoy doing, or simply forgetting about certain routine events.
Another major indicator of memory loss is sudden and uncharacteristically reckless spending or trouble maintaining their finances and forgetting making large unnecessary purchases on credit cards.
- Memory loss has also been linked to extreme fatigue, loss of energy, and changes in sleeping patterns.
Mental Health Programs for Older Adults
Finding a professional caregiver that specializes in mental health care for elders is a way to ensure your loved one is getting the highest level of care possible. Whether you need a part-time, full-time, or live-in caregiver, Home Care Assistance - Toronto/York Region can help match your elderly loved one with the perfect person for the job. You'll want someone who specializes in elderly mental disorders and offers a one-on-one personalized in-home approach. To learn more about our services, please contact us today!