In the 21st century, we are facing the fact that the global population is ageing quite rapidly. The reason for this increasing trend lies in several factors. Firstly, the number of babies brought to this world declines and more and more couples face fertility issues. Second, more important factor includes better availability and quality of healthcare worldwide, which in return prolongs life expectancy. Western countries, and those with high quality of primary healthcare, are impacted the most with ageing phenomenon. According to some estimations provided by the World Health Organization (WHO), the total world’s population over 60 years of age will nearly double by the 2050. Shown in numbers, we can anticipate an increase from 900 million today, up to nearly 2 billion people of elderly people in thirty years. These, what appears to be dramatic data have multiple consequences, including social, economical, as well as healthcare issues.
Mental problems are well recognized health issue in the elderly. It is estimated that approximately one fifth of the global elderly population suffers from some form of psychological disorder which prevents them from independently performing everyday activities. As a society, we sometimes perceive intellectual and mental decline almost as a natural consequence of ageing. On the other hand, stigma that surrounds these conditions often prevents elderly people and their families from seeking professional help and assistance. Support and care are crucial when we discuss about how to overcome the challenges related to psychological problems in the old age.
What are the risk factors?
The spectrum of risk factors responsible for developing psychological problems in old age is quite extensive. Multiple chronic illnesses, especially those of cardiovascular and cerebrovascular origin (hypertension, stroke, coronary heart disease) may have direct consequences to the brain, thereby producing cognitive disturbances and mental issues. Chronic pain is a perfect trigger of psychological distress in the old age. Hospital admission and any change of the environment (moving to a care setting) can also have a negative impact for the overall psychological well-being in the elderly. Social isolation, reduced income during retirement and loss of close family members are significant stressors to cope with – these may produce severe psychological disturbances leading to anxiety or depression. In fact, any severe and long-term illness, such as cancer, tends to affect the behavioral and psychological status of an older person.
Sadly, people of older age are also recognized as a population group prone to abuse. There is evidence that one in six older people will experience some type of abuse. Loss of dignity and respect is, not surprisingly, tightly linked with severe psychological issues.
Are there any symptoms?
Close family members and caregivers should be aware of signs and symptoms related to mental disorders in the elderly in order to seek professional help in a timely manner. When we see our loved ones age, occasional forgetfulness is usually not something to especially worry about. However, persistent loss of memory is a clear indication of a severe health condition needing medical attention.
Significant changes in appearance including changes in clothing may implicate a psychological and behavioral problem. Confusion, disorientation, inability to concentrate or make decisions represent early signs of cognitive decline and dementia. If you experience that your loved ones persistently ask the same questions, forget important dates, frequently misplace their belongings, this is a clear sign to refer them to a medical professional.
It is advisable to especially keep an eye on the feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness – such symptoms are linked with depression. Mood swings, ranging from e.g. being carefree to anxious are indicative of psychological issues. Inability to cope with everyday routine, problems in maintaining hygiene, home or garden should not be disregarded – they are often a sign of mental illness in older people.
Noticing any type of social withdrawal should be taken seriously. If your loved ones lose interest in social activities that they used to be excited about, or just avoid regular social engagements, you should consider seeking professional support for them.
Common psychological issues in old age
It is probably not that surprising that cognitive decline and dementia represent the most common mental health disorder in people older than 65 years. This severe and progressive disease affects approximately five million senior Americans or fifty million seniors worldwide. Concerning is the fact that this number will almost triple in the next twenty years. The disease by itself is estimated to take more lives than breast and prostate cancer combined. Any type of dementia can produce significant physical, emotional and economic pressure to patients and their caregivers. This is why an early diagnosis and appropriate care are essential for patients and their caregivers.
Depression and mood disorders are also quite frequent among seniors, however, the problem with this health condition is that it often goes undiagnosed and, therefore, untreated. Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 5% of elderly individuals suffer from depressive disorder. It is worth mentioning that some medications such as those for the treatment of increased blood pressure may cause depression. Sadness is not the only symptom. Lack of motivation and energy are the usual complaints linked to depression. Prolonged suffering and impairment in performing daily activities are well recognized consequences of untreated depression. Timely diagnosis, accompanied with adequate treatment, care and support is crucial for increasing the quality of life of elderly individuals.
Anxiety is also quite prevalent and may encompass a wide range of mental issues including obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder or phobias. Women are more prone to anxiety than men. Anxiety related disorders tend to occur after a stressful situation such as loss of a spouse or side by side to other chronic and prolonged disease. As in depression, anxiety disorders are usually overseen in elderly individuals, which may have severe implications to the overall well-being of seniors.
Sleep disorders including are common among seniors. Prolonged time needed to fall asleep (usually more than 45 minutes), trouble in maintaining sleep with frequent periods of being awake during night, as well as short overall duration of sleep represent clear signs of insomnia. Proper sleep is very important as it will reduce the probability of a severe psychological disorder. Maintaining a “sleep hygiene” reduces the need for sleep medications, which are sometimes responsible for memory impairment or poor daytime performance.
Is there a solution ( psychotherapy )?
It is important to mention that all of the above-mentioned disorders may coexist, and it is usually the case that seniors suffer from more then just one mental disorder. This is why they need all our support. WHO clearly recommends as a standard of care both psychological and medicinal treatment of seniors affected with mental disorders. This approach is essential for improving both physical and mental health and keeping an optimal quality of life of elderly individuals.
The demand for care and support of seniors with mental issues will increase as the elderly population grows. Providing a timely, high-quality professional help to older people directly reduces the number of complications that may arise as a consequence of mental disorders and prolongs the physical and emotional well-being of the elderly.
Solutions at CHMT
CHMT offers specialized programs for diagnosis and treatment of psychological problems in the elderly. An array of psychological therapies is available at CHMT facilities. Our team of health professionals can provide top-notch, evidence-based medical expertise. This includes diagnosis and treatment for our users, no matter the psychological condition and its stage.
You can find more info about our programs here. Long Term Elderly Care
If you need any additional info about our programs, feel free to Contact us.