May is finally here and sunny days are occurring more often. But, many people don’t enjoy sunny days due to a mental health issue. Many of these issues go undiagnosed as they can become mistaken for other natural aging issues. With May being mental health month, it’s a good time to assess your own mental well-being or that of a loved one.
Normal Aging or Mental Health Issue: Can You Tell The Difference?
Did you know that approximately 7% of seniors suffer from depression? It’s one of the most under diagnosed mental health issues amongst seniors. Its symptoms are often simply thought to be short-lived reactions to physical health changes, losing lifelong friends/spouses, or financial issues. As a result, it frequently is undiagnosed and, consequently, untreated.
Another mental health disorder that may go undiagnosed/untreated in seniors is early dementia. About 8% of seniors over age 65 have early dementia. This rate rises with age to 35% over age 85. Although some memory glitches are normal as you get older, memory loss accompanied by frequent mood changes, confusion, and loss of reasoning is not.
In addition, many younger family members brush off mood changes in their senior parents as “grumpy old man” syndrome, or mom just got up on the wrong side of the bed today. They often just attribute mood changes to inevitable aging.
But, dementia can also be the result of high blood pressure, blood vessel damage, a prior stroke, or series of small strokes called TIA’s (transient ischemic attacks). It can also occur from a lung condition where oxygen intake to the brain is impaired. Lack of adequate oxygen to the brain can result in loss of memory as well as behavior changes. Dementia can also occur as a side effect from certain drugs, drug interactions, nutritional deficiencies (particularly B6 and B12), from poor diet, untreated diabetes, thyroid or adrenal gland disorders.
If mood changes occur on a regular basis, and/or if normal reasoning starts to change, it could be pointing to early dementia that should be evaluated. There are several other neurological disorders that could account for the dementia symptoms as well. These include Huntington’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Lewy Body disease, or Alzheimer’s. However, new treatments can prolong their progression for much longer than in the past.
Anxiety is another issue that can start to commonly occur in seniors. It’s seen most often in those who are retired and not as active socially as they used to be; or they may have lost a spouse, or good friend recently. They may become anxious and distressed about the future. They can become chronically sad, hopeless, and even develop a nervous disorder. Insomnia can also be part of their symptoms.
To make matters worse, seniors won’t often admit any of these feelings to their family, or doctor, for fear of being thought of as frail and old. Yet, treatment for anxiety and its symptoms is fairly simple. Options include temporary, or long-term, medication, one-on-one therapy, creating new social outlets, and engaging family members for more involvement in the patient’s life.
Many seniors suffer in silence with all these mental health issues when they don’t have to. As a result, suicide, has become another rising concern amongst seniors. If you start to think that suicide is an answer to all your new and troubling feelings, your doctor can get you the help you need fast. Often, what’s needed is a new direction in your life, setting new goals, finding things you enjoy doing, and creating new social outlets to help you make new friends.
Help Yourself, Help A Loved One
If you, or a friend, relative, battle with any of the above issues, your doctor is your first line of defense. Don’t be afraid to tell them what’s bothering you, whether it’s anxiety, sleeplessness, nervousness, memory glitches, poor mood, feeling lonely, or just plain feeling bad. It may be helpful to keep a diary of your feelings to try and identify a pattern in them, some specific thing that may be causing them.
Keep in mind that these issues can have easily remedied causes, like nutritional deficiencies, developing better sleep habits, getting more exercise, or adjusting medications. Also, take a friend, your spouse, or your kids, into your confidence and let them know how you’re feeling as well. People around you can’t help what they don’t know about.
If you’re the friend, spouse, or relative of someone who seems to be battling these issues, try to spend more planned time with them. Help them develop a new goal to work toward, or help them find a social outlet, or activity, they can get involved with. If their mental issues seem to be more medically-based, don’t hesitate to get them to a doctor, even if you have to take them yourself.
Getting older has a lot of challenges, both physical and mental. But, you can stay healthy and mentally vibrant long into your old age. Recognizing, and addressing, these mental health issues as they occur, can help you get help much faster.
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.
What Are Mental Health Issues for Seniors? http://www.todaysseniors.com/wp/senior-health/what-are-mental-health-issues-for-seniors/