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Depression and Other Mental Illnesses

Physical changes that occur during the aging process are visible. Often, more emphasis is placed on these changes than on some of the emotional changes that can occur in the life of an older person. In this article we will address some of the mental and emotional changes that can occur in the course of aging.

Emotional changes may be the result of experiencing significant losses - the loss of the spouse or friend, the loss of hearing, sight or mobility, the loss of work or the ability to maintain a home. Most older people are able to recover from these losses over a period of time and, with the support of family and friends, continue to live satisfying lives. However, sometimes a person does not seem to be able to get past the pain and loss, and becomes depressed and loses motivation to go on living as before.

There are various types of mental illnesses just as there are a variety of physical illnesses.

"Depression is a psychiatric disorder and is the most common major illness in the elderly population today. Twenty-five percent of all older people suffer from depression." - The ElderCare Connection, the Partnership Group, Incorporated).


Depression's 7 Warning Signs

National Federation for Depressive Illness
  • Loss of energy and interest in regular activities
  • Diminished ability to enjoy yourself
  • Changes in sleeping habits or appetite
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Exaggerated feelings of sadness or anxiety
  • Feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness
  • Recurring thoughts about death or suicide
In addition to depression, a caregiver may notice other changes in their loved one's behavior and functioning that cannot be attributed to an apparent physical process or emotional event.

There are various types of mental illnesses, just as there are a variety of physical illnesses. Some older people experience symptoms of mental illness for the first time in their lives, and some older people experience a worsening of symptoms as they age. If the caregiver feels the older person is not able to carry out daily activities, such as preparing and eating meals, getting dressed, getting out, and so on, it is important to look at the overall picture of their physical and mental health to better respond to these changes.

Caregivers usually have difficulty dealing with a loved one who is psychotic. "Psychotic" means a person has lost touch with reality. The psychotic person may tell you about hearing voices or seeing things that are not there. These are auditory (hearing) or visual hallucinations. A psychotic person may also be very suspicious and, for example, imagine that people are stealing from them or intending to harm or discredit them. If your loved one describes any of these experiences it is important for them to get a medical evaluation.

10 Warning SIgns of Mental Illness

  • Marked personality change
  • Inability to cope with problems and daily activities
  • Strange or grandiose ideas
  • Excessive anxieties
  • Prolonged depression and apathy
  • Marked changes in eating or sleeping patterns
  • Thinking or talking about suicide
  • Extreme highs or lows
  • Abuse of alcohol or drugs
  • Excessive anger, hostility, or violent behavior

In situations when you notice behavioral or functional changes, it is important first to rule out any physical causes. Various conditions or infections can affect a person's mental condition, such as a thyroid imbalance, urinary tract infection, or drug reaction. Make an appointment with their physician and explain what changes you have observed. The medical exam allows the physician to make a diagnosis and treatment plan, which may include further evaluation, possibly by a psychiatrist. Many older people are reluctant to go to a psychiatrist for many reasons: the stigma that the older generation places on mental illness and treatment; the implication that others may think they are "crazy." When the diagnosis points toward some type of mental illness, family members themselves may have difficulty dealing with the mixed feelings associated with the newly acquired information. It is important to realize that many mental disorders, like physical illnesses, can be successfully treated with prescribed medication. Addressing the illness directly often has a positive outcome, allowing the older person to resume leading a high quality of life.
(Some material in this article came from Dr. Robert Jones, Psychiatrist.)

Written by the Lincoln LIFE Office.

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