Are you worried that an elderly loved one may be mentally ill? There may not always be a cure, but you might be able to find ways to manage mental illness in the elderly.

Mental illness in seniors

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), about one in five people aged 55 or older have some kind of mental illness. This could be depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or other conditions that affect behavior.

The American Psychological Association (APA) reports that elderly people are less likely than younger adults to get treated for mental illness. This could be for a variety of reasons, the APA notes: inadequate insurance coverage, lack of coordination among health-care providers, denial, and shame, for example.

Mental health and seniors: depression

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), elderly people may be at higher risk for depression as they age. Depression isn’t just a normal part of aging, reports the CDC – but it can affect seniors, especially those with other health conditions.

And doctors don’t always diagnose depression in seniors when it’s present, notes the CDC. Patients might not mention their symptoms, and health-care providers might assume symptoms are just a normal part of aging.

Can mental illness in seniors be cured?

Sometimes mental illness in seniors can be managed or treated. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), mental illness in the elderly is generally treated with any one (or a combination) of the following:

  • Talk therapy (psychotherapy) This can involve learning how to change your behavior or the way you think about certain things.
  • Prescription drugs These can include antidepressants, antianxiety medications, antipsychotics, and other medications.
  • Complementary therapy This can include exercise, yoga, or dietary supplements, for example.
  • Electroconvulsive therapy This is a type of brain stimulation therapy involving using electricity to affect certain functions in the brain.

The NIMH cited a study that might show promise in the treatment of elderly people with certain mental illnesses. The treatment involves electroconvulsive therapy and antidepressant prescription drugs. You may want to have some thorough discussions with your doctor about treatment options for your particular situation.

Can mental illness in seniors be overtreated?

The National Institute of Mental Health reported in 2015 that more seniors were prescribed antipsychotic drugs than younger adults. The older you get, the more likely you are to have these drugs prescribed for you. Antipsychotic drugs are sometimes used to treat patients with mental illness. According to the National Institutes of Health, these prescription drugs may be appropriate in some situations, but can be associated with an increased risk of dying. The NIH also reports that in many cases, doctors prescribe antipsychotic drugs to seniors when they haven’t had a clinical psychiatric diagnosis.

Mental illness in the elderly: clinical trials

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) says that clinical trials are studies aimed at finding new ways to treat, detect, or prevent diseases and disorders. Trials often need volunteers to participate in these studies, many of which focus on specific conditions such as anxiety. To learn more, visit the NIMH website.

Mental illness in the elderly: resources for getting help

Don’t hesitate to seek help if you think you or a love one may be suffering from mental illness. Here are a few resources:

  • National Suicide Prevention Hotline – call toll-free: 1-800-273-8255 and talk with a trained crisis worker 24 hours a day, seven days a week, all U.S. time zones.
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness – you can call the help line toll-free at 1-800-950-6264 Monday through Friday, 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM ET.
  • Visit the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) website for more information and resources.

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