The following is part of a presentation, Elderly Mental Health, designed 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.
Below is information about Dementia. Click the link to the rest of the presentation, for helpful information about other mental health considerations. Elderly Mental Health.
What is Dementia?
It is not a specific disease.
It describes a group of symptoms affecting thinking and social abilities severely enough to interfere with daily functioning.
What Causes Dementia?
Dementia involves damage of nerve cells in the brain, which may occur in several areas of the brain. Dementia may affect people differently, depending on the area of the brain affected.
What Conditions Can Cause Dementia?
- Reactions to medications
- Metabolic problems and endocrine abnormalities (e.g., thyroid problems, hypoglycemia, too little or too much sodium or calcium, impaired ability to absorb B12)
- Nutritional deficiencies (e.g., thiamine/B1, B6, B12, dehydration)
- Infections (e.g., meningitis, encephalitis, syphilis, Lyme disease, AIDS)
- Subdural hematomas
- Brain tumors
- Anoxia (diminished supply of oxygen to an organ’s tissues)
- Heart and lung problems
What Conditions Are Not Dementia?
- Age-related cognitive decline (i.e., slower information processing, mild memory impairment)
- Mild cognitive impairment
What are the Risk Factors for Dementia?
- Age – risks go up with advancing age
- Genetics/family history
- Smoking and alcohol use (smokers have higher risk of vascular diseases)
- Mild cognitive impairment
- Down syndrome
- Dementia may be diagnosed when two or more brain functions (e.g., memory, language skills, perception, or cognitive skills including reasoning and judgment) are significantly impaired without loss of consciousness.
- Some causes of dementia are treatable and preventable.
- Patient History
- Physical Exam
- Neurological Evaluation
- Cognitive and neuropsychological tests
- Brain scans
- Lab tests
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.