The following presentation, Elderly Mental Health, is to help caregivers understand the many changes and challenges an elderly person may be experiencing. Sometimes the changes are so subtle that caregivers do not recognize them – either in themselves or in the person for whom they are caring – until one day it seems like things are out of control, blow-up, and/or are intolerable. Caregivers can feel frustrated and exasperated that their elderly charge is depressed, irritable, confused, anxious, or engaging in bizarre behaviors. Learning about what an older person is experiencing and the possible cause(s) can help the Caregiver feel less overwhelmed and better able to empathize, sympathize, and consider alternatives that can ease and soothe symptoms of distress.
See this article for specific information about Dementia.
As People Grow Older They Accumulate More Losses
- Retirement (loss of role identity)
- Financial problems (fixed income)
- Loss of loved ones
- Physical problems
- A sense of feeling devalued in society in general
Deteriorating social support system as friends/family pass, takes away the protective factors that help people get through these types of situations.
Life-Stage Development Questions
- Has my life had meaning?
- Have I contributed to the world?
- Has my life been worthwhile?
Mental health symptoms may present quite differently in the elderly persons:
- Sleep disturbance
- Loss of appetite
- Physical complaints
Anxiety and depression can be a consequence of underlying medical conditions (e.g., cardiac problems can lead to shortness of breath and palpitations. Hyperthyroidism can also cause agitation and anxiety).
Medical conditions can be influenced/exacerbated by anxiety and depression.
- Post-operative delirium
- Changes in the senses
- Taste and smell
- Touch, vibration, pain
Commonly Diagnosed Forms of Mental Illness in the Elderly
It is not uncommon for older people to note that they may be the last of a generation, which can lead to a profound sense of loss, prompting feelings of loneliness and isolation that can be difficult for younger people to comprehend.
Most often takes the form of worry:
- Being alone
- Close spaces
Many times Caregivers say they feel guilty about what they thought or how they reacted to their elderly loved one. This presentation was made to help Caregivers recognize changes an older person has gone through, is currently experiencing, and faces in the future. The information includes symptoms to look for and questions to consider when talking to health professionals in order to rule out causes. By recognizing and understanding the world of the elderly person, the Caregiver can have a clearer perspective from which to think, speak, and act when interacting with them.
About the Author
As a Licensed Professional Counselor and Supervisor, Dr. Jane Toler specializes in counseling individuals, couples, and families. She has navigated the caregiver journey in her own family, with clients, and with members of the group she facilitated, Caring for the Caregiver.
Dr. Toler earned her Ph.D. in Counseling from The University of North Texas and M.S. and B.A. degrees from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. She has been in the mental health field since 1996. She has volunteered at the Suicide and Crisis Center in Dallas and is an affiliate of the Stepfamily Association of America, now known as the National Stepfamily Resource Center.