10 Signs of Mental Illness in Seniors

Mental Illness in Seniors

10 Signs of Mental Illness in Seniors

Learn the symptoms of a mental disorder to provide the best support and hope to an older adult loved one in need.

Have you noticed that a senior loved one in your life is sleeping more than normal, displays anger and irritability, or is having suicidal thoughts? Did you know that these may be indicators of a mental health problem?

Around one in four older adults are living with a mental condition such as depression or anxiety. Worldwide, the total number is expected to more than double as the elder population increases by 2050. 

An unfortunate reality is that two-thirds of elderly adults that have mental disorders do not get treatment for their conditions. Untreated mental disorders can lead to diminished overall health, an increase in healthcare costs, disability, lower quality of life, increased caregiver burden and stress, a higher risk of suicide, or even death.

Because of this, it’s important to recognize the warning signs and risk factors associated with mental illness. Below you will find some of the signs of mental illness in seniors

10 signs of mental illness to look out for

Changes in dress and appearance, or problems maintaining their yard or home: When an older adult suffers from a shift in their appearance and the condition of the home seems to change for the worse, it could be a result of a mental health concern.  

Demonstrating confusion, being disoriented, or having problems concentrating and making decisions: If your mental state changes, it could cause you to not know where you are. Alternatively, it could be difficult to be focused and concentrated. The feeling of fogginess and confusion can be a direct result of mental health disorders.

Loss of appetite, or alternatively an increase in appetite and changes in weight: Whether a mental disorder or something else, a change in appetite is often a warning sign that something is wrong. It may present itself slowly or quickly through weight changes, In any case, consider the possibility that it could be related to a mental health concern, especially in conjunction with other risk factors listed here. Learn 10 healthy eating tips for seniors here

Mental Illness in Seniors

Depressed mood lasting longer than two weeks: People of all ages naturally go through down periods or stretches of sadness. However, when it persists over a stretch of time then examine the chance that it could stem from a mental health condition. Some examples of this could include a persistent sadness, anxiousness, or “empty” mood. 

Feeling worthless, inexplicably guilty, or helpless. Thoughts of suicide could be an worrying factor as well: If a loved one seems to be displaying a sense of hopelessness or pessimism that appears out of character, it may signal the onset of a mental disorder. If thoughts of suicide surface, take the threat seriously. Act immediately to get help from a professional or call the suicide hotline number at 800-273-TALK.

Memory loss, especially recent or short-term memory problems: Loss of memory could be a flag that demonstrates a mental condition coming to light. Depression in particular has been linked to memory issues, like displays of confusion or forgetfulness.

Physical problems that appear to surface without an explanation: A surprising fact is that mental illness can manifest itself to create concerns that the body experiences physically. If you observe physical conditions that don’t appear to have an underlying cause, consider the possibility that mental health concerns could be a hidden contributor.

Withdrawal from social settings and activities; losing interest in hobbies and interests that were previously enjoyable: Have you noticed that you or your loved one don’t seem to take any pleasure in the activities that they previously participated in or looked forward to? Have they stepped back from social engagements that they previously took part in? This could be a warning sign that a mental disorder has presented itself. Heighten your focus on additional risk factors. On top of that, talk to your loved one to see what is creating this lack of interest and shift in normal activities. Consider hobbies and activities that engage seniors and also seniors with dementia.

Trouble handling finances or working with numbers: Financial distress and mental health disorders often go hand in hand. There are several reasons that this happens. Life may feel like it’s out of your control, you may be more likely to avoid problems, and desperation for relief may set in. Careless or reckless control over financial spending can be the end result. Working with numbers in general could be a challenge too. This is because the fogginess of mental disorders can make it feel impossible to make decisions, plan ahead, or just plain organize your financial situation. 

Unexplained loss of energy, fatigue, or changes in sleep patterns: Does a loved one feel very tired even after a full night’s sleep, or do they have sustained changes in sleep patterns (like sleeping too much or too little)? Be alert for an underlying mental health concern. Particularly observed in depression, lacking energy and regularly feeling tired is one sign that a mental disorder could be latching on. 

Taking action

As a loved one or concerned friend or family member, it’s important to recognize the most common signs and risk factors of mental health disorders. By understanding the risk factors of mental illness, you can ensure that the senior in your life can get help as soon as possible. That can facilitate access to proper treatment if it is needed. With most mental health disorders, there can be numerous signs and symptoms. In some people, they may only experience a few symptoms and others could display many. Finally, the signs listed here could be related to something else that does not stem from a mental health condition.

Do you continue to be concerned and think there may be a link to a mental health concern? Be sure to inform your doctor so they can implement proper screening tools to discover and diagnose if a mental condition is present. 

Additional risk factors

In addition to the warning signs listed here, there are a few risk factors associated with mental disease and depression in seniors and older adults. These include:

  • A history of depression in the family or in the individual
  • Major or recent life changes, trauma, and stress
  • Some physical illnesses and prescribed medications

Treating Depression and Anxiety in Seniors

The are several treatments for mental health disorders like depression and anxiety in older adults. These may include medication, psychotherapy, or a combination of both. Loved ones and providers of care should be aware of the signs and symptoms of mental disorders. Treatment is generally more effective when initiated at an early stage of mental illness. As a result, being proactive and observant is vital to success.

Activities to support mental health

Signs and Stages of Dementia

Consider one or more of these activities to promote positive emotional health and well being for an older adult in need:

  • Exercise and healthy habits: Taking exercise classes, participating in hobbies and games, gardening, yoga, tai chi, and other activities. Exercise can provide purpose and a healthy body and mind.
  • Fuel your mind: Read books, discuss current events, complete puzzles, card games, and research history as several options to keep the mind active and engaged.
  • Interact with your artistic side: Participate in arts and crafts activity, creatively write blogs, journalies, or start a diary. Plus, you can play and listen to music, or pursue other cultural ventures. 
  • Learn something new: Take a bevy of online classes and educational tools. Cook more, try your hand at sewing, or consider new hobbies. 
  • Engage your spiritual side: Attend religious services and spiritual activities, celebrate holidays, and take part in meditation and yoga classes.
  • Give back as a volunteer or mentor: Participate in a local nonprofit or a cause that you or a senior loved one believes in. Put their years of wisdom and experience to good use with advice and mentorship opportunities for others. 
  • Learn coping skills: Take classes on loss, the grieving process, properly caring for a spouse in need, or socializing as a tool for good. These can be great when mental disorder is a risk stemming from trauma and other impactful life events.

Adding the help and support of home health aides

Is a friend or loved one living with a mental health condition? Chosen Family Home Care has a dedicated staff of supportive and caring at-home caregivers. Read more about our services available and contact us today. Whether you are in need of personal care services, respite care, or companionship, we are here and available to help.


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