There are many challenges that accompany later life including declining health, changes in lifestyle or living situation, financial stress, social isolation, loss of loved ones or friends, and memory loss which can negatively impact a person’s physical and mental health. Mental health problems are often under-diagnosed by health care professionals, as well as older adults themselves, and the stigma associated with these conditions can make people reluctant to seek care. However, mental health and well-being are as important in older age as at any other time of life.
It is a fact that mental health and physical health are fundamentally linked. For example, older adults with heart disease have higher rates of depression than those who are healthy. Conversely, untreated depression in an older person with heart disease can negatively affect its outcome. Staying healthy requires taking care of both body and mind. Recognizing and treating mental health problems can significantly improve quality of life, personal relationships, productivity, and general health.
Advancing age is the strongest known risk factor for dementia. Dementia is growing public health issue expected to exponentially rise with the aging of the US population. It is associated with a decline in memory and other cognitive abilities significant enough to impair performance of everyday activities. It can also be associated with changes in mood and personality. There are many different causes of dementia including Alzheimer’s disease (most common), vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia, dementia due to Parkinson’s disease, frontotemporal dementia, dementia due to Huntington’s disease, to name a few. As such, early detection of dementia symptoms is critically important.
As dementia progresses, patients will almost universally develop problems with mood and behaviors including depression, apathy, anxiety, irritability, restlessness, sleep problems, delusions, paranoia, hallucinations, disinhibition, agitation, and sometimes aggression. Seeking care and treating these symptoms makes people with dementia more comfortable and their care easier for caregivers. It is essential to have a geriatric psychiatrist on your care team who specializes in the evaluation and management of dementia and its associated behavioral and psychological symptoms.
Dementia and other mental health issues in older adults, affects not only the patients, but also their loved ones who care for them. Demands of daily care, shifting family roles, and decisions about placement can be difficult for caregivers. It often results in high physical, emotional, and financial costs which can increase a caregiver’s risk for worsening physical and mental health. We believe it is equally important that caregivers are also monitored for stress and the need for additional support.
At the Geriatric Psychiatry Clinic, we strive to partner with patients and their caregivers and walk them through the course of the illness, provide education and psychosocial support, identify safety concerns, discuss planning for future care, and link them with community resources.
Having issues with mental health is not a sign of weakness, a character flaw, a lack of faith, a curse, or a moral failing. We look at mental illness in the same way as physical illness- diabetes, hypertension, heart disease- conditions for which treatments are available and when untreated can have negative consequences on overall health.