Five Common Symptoms of Mental Illness in Seniors

Depression is not a normal part of aging. If you see that your loved one is becoming listless, disinterested in activities or hobbies or doesn’t want to get out of bed, they may be suffering from depression. Knowing that this is not normal will help you to seek treatment for them. Here is what you need to know about depression and the five most common symptoms of mental illness in seniors:

There are three types of depression that seniors and others may experience:

  • Major Depression—severe symptoms that interfere with your ability to work, sleep, concentrate, eat, and enjoy life.
  • Persistent Depressive Disorder (Dysthymia)—depression symptoms that are less severe than those of major depression, but last a long time (at least two years).
  • Minor Depression—depression symptoms that are less severe than those of major depression and dysthymia, and symptoms do not last long.

When a spouse, sibling or close friend passes away, grief and sadness can appear as depression. However, a non-depressed person will proceed through the stages of grief and eventually return to a normal mood. A depressed person will get stuck in the sadness and grief and be unable to move on.
 
It may be difficult to tell if your loved one is depressed if he or she doesn’t usually talk about feelings. You may not be able to tell if they are experiencing feelings of hopelessness, pessimism, worthlessness or helplessness. However, other symptoms are more obvious like weight changes. If you observe symptoms for more than two weeks, seek help for your loved one. The five most common symptoms of mental illness and depression in seniors can include the following:

  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities
  • Decreased energy, fatigue, being “slowed down”
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions
  • Restlessness, irritability
  • Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause and/or that do not ease even with treatment

There are many risk factors for depression. For seniors, women may be at higher risk, as are those who have a chronic illness or disability. Social isolation is a significant risk factor for depression, which is why remaining active and involved is so important for seniors. Other risk factors include:

  • A personal or family history of depression
  • Suffer from a brain disease
  • Abuse alcohol or drugs
  • Have experienced stressful life events such as loss of a spouse, divorce, or taking care of someone with a chronic illness
  • Take medications whose side effects include depression

There are many treatments and many resources that offer help for depression. Start with your loved one’s primary care physician. Discuss the symptoms you are observing and request a medication review as the first step. Then, ask for a referral to a therapist who can talk with your loved one and explore the reasons for the depression. Medications and psychotherapy can be very effective treatments. Alternative therapies can help as well. Some people have found that acupuncture, yoga, walking, and certain nutritional guidelines help to alleviate depression.
 
The most important thing is to recognize the signs and symptoms of depression and then act on them. Your loved one can recover from depression with the right treatments. Even if seniors pull away it is important to stay involved and remember that they can be helped. There are many types of assistance for those suffering from depression, ranging from therapy to medications. Finding the right help depends upon first noticing the symptoms and then reaching out to the right practitioner.

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