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May is Mental Health Month: Know the Indications of Mental Illness in the Elderly

APEX, NC–Most of us know that as we age, our body goes through certain physical changes. What a lot of people don’t realize is that the older we get, our mental health also experiences change. When is it time to really take notice and get professional help?

Reshmi Saranga M.D. is a geriatric psychiatrist and founder of Saranga Comprehensive Psychiatry in Apex, NC. She says this Mental Health Month, it’s important to be aware of the seven indications of mental illness in the elderly:

  1. Changes in appearance: One of the most telling signs that someone might be facing mental health challenges as they age is in their outer appearance. If they are no longer grooming themselves, showering, brushing their teeth, brushing their hair, or paying attention to the clothes they wear and just look like a mess overall, it’s time to investigate.
  2. Changes in mood: Certain changes in mood are normal as we age. However, when there is a drastic fluctuation in mood and someone becomes overly sad, distant, doesn’t want to eat, feels helpless or worthless, can’t focus or concentrate, or worse, experiences significant swings in mood, this can be a sign of depression or bipolar disorder. If the person seems suicidal or talks about ending it all, this requires immediate intervention.
  3. Withdrawal from normal activities: If all of a sudden an elderly person loses interest in activities that normally bring them pleasure, something isn’t right. If they no longer want to socialize with friends and family, begin to isolate themselves, always want to stay home and no longer have a desire to participate in the activities they usually enjoy, this can be sign of geriatric depression.
  4. Lack of energy and more fatigue: A 65-year-old doesn’t have the energy and stamina of a 20-year-old, but should still be able to do engage in most activities. If a physical examination doesn’t reveal anything abnormal, the mental health of the elderly person should be closely looked into. A lack of energy and fatigue can be a sign of depression and anxiety and needs to be treated.
  5. Any life change: After any life change, whether positive or negative, it’s important to keep an eye on your mental health, especially as we age. A few examples of change that can impact our mental health include: death of a spouse, family member or friend; moving to a new home or assisted living facility; the diagnosis of a serious physical illness; losing the ability to participate in activities you’ve enjoyed for years like golf or running; changes in family structure (your child gets married, divorced or has a baby, for example).
  6. Medications: It’s normal to need more medications to support our body as we age, but sometimes when too many medications are taken together or interact with each other, the results can show up in our mental functioning. This can bring about confusion, agitation, forgetfulness, anger, fatigue, changes in appetite and more. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about all the medications you are taking.
  7. Other less obvious symptoms: Sometimes it may not be as obvious that something is wrong. More subtle symptoms of mental illness in the elderly include: too much or too little sleep, confusion, trouble with memory, changes in appetite, unexplained aches and pains that don’t have a physical cause, trouble making up his or her mind, a desire to engage in activities that are not typical for this person, turning to drugs or alcohol, and changes in weight.