Mental health problems affect older people more than any other age group. Some of the most common mental health illnesses amongst older people are outlined below:
Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
Dementia is an umbrella term that is used to describe a gradual deterioration of mental capacity; this affects the ability to interact with others, do basic everyday tasks and coordinate movements. Dementia affects 1 in 5 people over the age of 85. Dementia is a degenerative condition, meaning it gets worse over the course of time.
Common symptoms of dementia include:
- Memory loss
- Changes in mood
- Lack of energy and desire to live life as normal (many people with dementia lose interest in doing things they used to enjoy doing)
There is no cure for dementia in elderly people and in many cases, the condition gets so serious that sufferers require long-term care; initially, people with dementia may only require a little help around the house but this can turn into a need for 24 hour care as the condition progresses. Caring for somebody with advanced dementia can be emotionally and physically draining, especially as the person you are caring for often has no idea who you are, despite you spending so much time with them. There is a great deal of support available for carers; you can contact Carers UK for support and advice and if you are struggling to cope, get in touch with your local authority about getting additional help for the person you are caring for.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia; it gradually disrupts the messages that are delivered to and from the brain by attacking the nerves and neurotransmitters. Alzheimer’s disease has devastating effects on both the patient and their relatives; there is no cure and eventually, the sufferer will lose most of their mental capacity, meaning they will be completely reliant on other people. People with advanced Alzheimer’s disease have very little idea of what is going on around them and often don’t recognise family members or friends, even if they see them on a regular basis; this can be particularly heartbreaking.
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s are similar to those of other kinds of dementia; initially, a person may appear to be slightly more forgetful than usual and they may struggle to interact effectively in social situations. As the condition progresses, people become increasingly dependent on other people and lose the ability to do even the most basic tasks without help.
If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and are struggling to cope, you should talk to somebody about your concerns. Consult your GP or get in touch with the Alzheimer’s Society; if you are struggling to manage caring for a relative on a full-time basis, you should get in contact with your local authority to discuss the possibility of arranging some social care.
Depression affects 1 in 8 people over the age of 65 and is often the result of a trigger associated with getting older, rather than people feeling depressed that they’re getting older. Common causes of depression in older people include:
- Health problems
- A loss of mobility, sight or hearing
- Certain health conditions including Parkinson’s disease and dementia
There may be several different types of symptoms, which can affect people’s emotional and physical state, as well as their psychological health. Common symptoms of depression include:
- Changes in mood
- Low self-esteem
- Lack of energy
- Feeling irritable, angry or teary
- Prolonged spells of feeling low
- Aches and pains
- Avoiding contact with other people
- Disturbed sleep
- Loss of appetite and weight loss
If you feel that you may be suffering with depression, see your GP; they may prescribe you with medication or suggest a talking treatment such as counselling or cognitive behavioural therapy. Try to also find natural ways to lift your mood such as doing exercise, taking up a new hobby or making arrangements to get out and about and catch up with friends or relatives.
Loss of hearing
Many people experience a gradual loss of hearing as they get older. Signs to look out for include:
- Having to turn the television or radio up louder than usual
- Struggling to hear people when they’re talking to you or on the phone to you
- Struggling to hear people in a social situation
If you are struggling to hear, you can contact the RNID and take their quick 5 minute hearing test; you may then be advised to see your GP. Your GP will check your hearing problems are not related to obstructions in the ear and then refer you for a hearing test; you may then receive a hearing aid. If you are worried about your hearing or are struggling to come to terms with losing your hearing, you can contact Sense, Hearing Concern or the RNID.