Assessing an Older Adult’s Mental Health Needs

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Depression is a serious mental health condition that often goes unrecognized and untreated among seniors. That’s why assessing an older adult’s mental health needs is so important.

We expect our older relatives to slow down as they age, but a significant drop in energy level or a marked change in mood or behavior could signal a more serious matter. Here are some ways to assess your loved one’s mental health needs and seek treatment.

Identifying Depression

Depression is a serious medical illness that often goes unrecognized and untreated among older adults, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. It’s normal for an older person to feel sad every once in a while or frustrated by health problems or financial concerns. If one of the following symptoms persists and interferes with daily life, however, your loved one could be suffering from depression:

  • Prolonged sadness.
  • Energy loss.
  • Irritability, anger or pessimism.
  • Nervousness or restlessness.
  • Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness or helplessness.
  • Loss of interest in favorite activities.
  • Difficulty sleeping or sleeping more than usual.
  • Eating more or less than usual.
  • Recurring thoughts of death or suicide.

Having a chronic illness or limited ability to function increases a person’s risk of developing depression. If your loved one shows signs of the disease, seek treatment. Left untreated, depression can affect one’s physical health and quality of life. Treatment can include antidepressant medications or talk therapy — or a combination of the two.

Distinguishing Depression From Dementia

Depression sometimes gets misdiagnosed as dementia, a decline in mental ability that can be caused by Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, brain tumor and other illnesses. People with dementia have problems with at least two brain functions, such as memory and language.

An older adult with depression may exhibit dementia-like symptoms, such as forgetfulness, disorientation and inattentiveness. This so-called pseudodementia sets in after the person has already shown signs of depression. Someone with depression-related pseudodementia will complain about memory loss, whereas a person with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia will try to conceal memory loss.

It’s also not unusual for a person with dementia to develop depression. Before depression sets in, however, mental decline will have already begun. Other psychological and emotional issues that can arise from dementia include anger, anxiety, loss of inhibitions and paranoia.