Mistake to Dismiss Mental Illness

Contrary to popular belief, mental disorders like anxiety, depression, cognitive impairment, mood disorders and behavioral problems, are not a normal part of aging.

Yet, psychiatric illnesses in older adults have long tended to be neglected, sometimes with tragic consequences. The elderly suicide rate is higher than in any other age group,  and twice the national average.

Many of our elderly parents suffer in silence because they are unable to relate their problems to someone who understands. Access to psychiatric care has long been a problem for them.  Most families do not understand how to identify problems.  And many nursing homes don’t know how to care for seniors with mental disorders.

According to the American Medical Association, there are less than 2,600 board certified geriatric psychiatrists for 35 million seniors – or about one per 14,000 Americans 65 and older.   Think about that ratio!  Families and nursing home personnel often fail to recognize mental or emotional illness in an elderly person, which can be confused with the “normal” symptoms of aging combined with multiple medical issues.

In addition to a shortage of appropriate health specialists, experts cite barriers to access, a denial of problems among the elderly, and a lack of coordination between mental health and aging networks.

It is estimated that 40 percent of older adults with medical problems also have signs of depression. For many seniors, the process of aging in and of itself can be depressing.  So depression is not a surprising result — when you understand that the elderly may be dealing with the loss of loved ones;  financial concerns;  feelings of neglect;  and loss of independence.  They also must deal with the reality that their bodies are breaking down.

Watch out for your elderly parents and seniors in the community.  Depression is not just a simple case of a bad mood.  Rather, it may continue with an individual for weeks at a time.  A general malaise may set in.  Signs to watch out for include a loss or lack of concentration, sleep, appetite, and interest.