Mental illness is a common, though often ignored, malady in older adults. The World Health Organization found that, as of 2013, approximately 15% of adults over the age of 60 suffer from a mental disorder. Unfortunately, many people confuse symptoms of mental illness with normal signs of aging.  

Mental illnesses are diseases that cause mild-to-severe disturbances in thought and/or behavior, resulting in an inability to cope with life’s ordinary demands or routines.  Common mental illnesses that are prevalent in the elderly include depression, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, anxiety, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Just how prevalent are these illnesses? 6 million Americans over the age of 65 are affected by depression and as many as 5 million may have Alzheimer’s.

Being educated about the warning signs can help make detection of mental illness easier for loved ones and care givers. Below are four of the biggest early warning signs that an elderly person may be suffering from mental illness.

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1. Memory Issues

Memory issues are incorrectly considered a normal part of the aging process by many, which causes mental illnesses to often go unrecognized until they have advanced significantly. Memory problems can be a warning sign of mental illnesses such as Alzheimer’s and dementia in older adults. Signs of this memory loss may include misplacing belongings, repeatedly asking for the same information or forgetting important dates.

 2. Changes In Personal Care

Often times, a person with mental health issues will stop adhering to their regular personal care routines. A noticeable change in appearance might signify that a person is unable to successfully adhere to their former routines related to personal appearance. While this will look different for everyone, changes in personal appearance that may be a sign of a mental illness include forgoing bathing or skipping previously standard personal care tasks, such as applying makeup.

 3. Social Withdrawal

Individuals suffering from mental illness often become socially withdrawn. If you notice your loved one losing interest in activities that they used to be excited about or avoiding regular social engagements, it may be because they are suffering from a mental health issue that makes these things difficult. For example, they may blow off weekly card games with their friends because they are having difficulty remembering how to play.

4. Changes in Mood

A change in disposition often accompanies mental illnesses, such as depression and Alzheimer’s. Your loved one may go from carefree to anxious, upbeat to depressed, or confident to confused. If these mood changes last more than a couple of weeks, there may be a more serious cause driving their altered personality.

If you know a senior who is exhibiting any of these symptoms, encourage them to reach out to a professional who can help diagnose and treat mental illness. Some seniors may be reluctant to seek help on their own, making it important that you are there for them to support and encourage their treatment. 

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