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10 Signs of Mental Illness in Elderly

As our parents or grandparents age, we consider their change in behavior or loss of memory, a natural course of action. We often ignore the fact that sometimes aging is not the parameter. In fact, it might be one contributing factor to mental illness. Though it is difficult to identify a difference between expected changes and signs of mental illness, we’ve listed a few common symptoms that indicate mental health issues briefly.

Beware of These Common Signs of Mental Illness in Elderly

According to WHO statistics, approximately 20% of the older adults suffer from some type of mental health issue at one point. Loneliness, cognitive impairment, mood swings, and anxiety are the few mental illness symptoms among older individuals. Other than these, the common signs of mental illness in the elderly also include:


1. Often Emotional Outbursts
Interestingly, every individual has their own set of reaction towards certain changes. When people age, they experience a plethora of emotions churning in their head. Often, they snap out on little things or may even cry.
For instance, if they have a habit of having their morning tea in a particular cup, they might react hyperactively if their cup is displaced. Seems unreasonable, right? But, it is true. These extreme changes in moods and behaviors are clear signs of mental illness.


2. Change in Sleep Patterns
Generally, 7-8 hours of sleep is considered sufficient for an adult. However, when a person ages, this sleep cycle decreases to 6.5 hours. Though the deterioration in sleep is a factor of ageing, persistent changes in elderly sleep patterns is a symptom of mental illness. As per a study, sleeping too much or too little might indicate anxiety, depression, loneliness or a sleeping disorder.


3. Fading Sense of Direction
According to a study, it was found that sense of orientation and spatial direction commonly starts to diminish with the onset of ageing. In this study, a group of 20 young individuals and 21 older individuals participated. After conducting a series of experiments, it was concluded that older people failed to navigate accurately as compared to young participants.

Their inability of not recognizing once known landmarks and forgetting frequently used directions showed loss of memory, also known as dementia. And, according to Alzheimer Society, the loss of memory or dementia is an onset of mental illness as it affects the functioning of the brain.


4. Social Isolation
Usually, when an individual has a mental illness, they tend to isolate themselves from social gatherings. They might lose interest in their favorite hobbies or activities. In fact, they might even show disinterest in wanting to go out or do anything fun. So, if you notice signs of disinterest in activities they used to love or people they used to visit, it indicates they are suffering from a mental health issue.


5. Drop in Self-Worth
In elderly people, the feeling of worthlessness and insignificance are very common. They may feel their children don’t need them anymore or that they are no longer of any value to them. These frequent thoughts of unimportance are all possible signs of mental illness, such as depression.
So, if you find your ageing parents or grandparents often criticizing or blaming themselves, it is advised not to overlook it. These feelings could mean the person is in the depths of despair and requires urgent help.


6. Blur and Delusional Thoughts (Confusion)
Forgetting things in old age is common. However, if the episodes of forgetfulness and confusion are frequent, it points towards signs of mental illness. For example, misplacing house keys, getting confused in deciding directions, or confusing someone else with some other person.
These few things scream of improper brain functioning meaning mental health issues. In other words, it means an individual is not in a proper state of mind to think or to remember.


7. Irregular Personal Hygiene
Often, when a person suffers from mental health issues, they stop focusing on their regular personal hygiene. You may find them shabbily dressed with uncombed hair or even wearing the same clothes for days.
Simply put, when a person faces mental issues, they lose interest in keeping themselves presentable. While this symptom may vary from person to person, changes in personal care routine may be a sign of mental illness.


8. Prolonged Sadness
A mentally sick individual often continue to dwell in a certain emotion for hours, days or weeks. The most common emotion they might show is sadness. Sometimes this unhappy feeling might be because of a reason, but, the other times it is mainly due to their holding onto things.
For instance, seeing their friends passing away and their children moving, they are not left with much to do. It makes them feel sad and vulnerable which further leads to the onset of depression.


9. Excessive Fear and Anxiety
Another common sign of mental illness in the elderly is excessive fear and anxiety. When they age, they tend to worry about their independence, declining health, death, loneliness, etc., which triggers anxiety. This anxiety further turns into fear leading to severe mental health conditions like panic attacks and depression.


10. Increased Belief in Mystical Powers
People suffering from mental health issues often see things that are invisible to other people. They strongly start to believe in superstitions. This impaired relationship with reality is known as psychosis or in simpler terms, hallucinations. Therefore, if your loved one, points out towards things or scenarios that are un-real, chances are they might be suffering from mental illness.

So, now that you know the common signs of mental illness in the elderly, it is important to plan a course of action. With proper care and support, you can prevent them from suffering from mental health issues. After all, precaution is always better than cure!




Sharda Hospital

Last modified: July 20, 2018

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