The Most Common Mental Health Conditions in the Elderly and Senior Population

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 15 percent of all adults over the age of 60 experience some kind of mental health problem. That means you probably know people who’ve been affected by conditions like the ones listed below—even if they’ve kept their challenges private. Just remember: None of these issues are considered by professionals to be normal parts of aging. Nor are they anything to be ashamed of. They are real conditions that can often be successfully treated or managed by getting professional help. Some of the most common mental health issues in the elderly and senior population include:

  • Depression: Older adults have a heightened risk of depression, which makes this one of the most important issues in the field of geriatric mental health. Everybody feels sad sometimes. But depression is much more than that. People who are depressed tend to have a consistently low mood, which doesn’t necessarily always manifest as sadness. They may also experience ongoing feelings like anxiety, guilt, anger, shame, emptiness, worthlessness, irritability, or hopelessness. Often, they don’t get enjoyment from activities they previously liked. And they may feel generally apathetic about life, which can lead to suicidal thoughts. In fact, elderly men have the highest suicide rate of any demographic. If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)Learn more about what depression looks like in seniors and how to get help.
  • Anxiety disorders: All of us have fears and temporary worries. But some people have feelings of anxiety that don’t go away or that consistently get triggered in certain kinds of situations. As a result, they may have trouble doing normal activities. Their feelings can also grow worse over time and cause more and more interference in their lives. Many types of anxiety disorders exist. Some of the most common types among seniors include generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. In a lot of cases, people with anxiety disorders also have depression.
  • Dementia: Most people are aware of Alzheimer’s disease, but it’s important to know that several other forms of dementia exist as well. They can cause a person’s memory to deteriorate and lead to other symptoms such as confusion, personality changes, erratic behavior, and communication difficulties. Some professionals prefer to classify dementia as a brain disorder rather than as a mental illness. But, regardless of how it’s classified, it can have a substantial impact on a person’s mental well-being. That’s why, when it comes to the health of seniors and the elderly, mental disorders like dementia need our awareness—even if they aren’t always easy to classify or talk about.
  • Delirium: This temporary mental condition is mostly experienced by elderly people who’ve been hospitalized for a separate medical issue. In fact, delirium is often caused by medical problems. It’s usually characterized by sudden symptoms like confusion, an inability to focus, or a spike or rapid decrease in body movement. Because people with delirium may also experience a troubled consciousness, their judgment is sometimes severely impaired.

Mental Health for Seniors

  • Bipolar disorder: Also known as manic-depressive illness, this condition is characterized by distinct changes in a person’s mood and behavior. Someone with bipolar disorder will have manic episodes (during which he or she feels energized, elated, or generally “up”) and depressive episodes (during which he or she feels sad, hopeless, or generally “down). Seniors with this condition may have difficulty carrying out their daily activities.
  • Late-onset schizophrenia and other forms of psychosis: Psychiatric professionals used to think that only young people developed schizophrenia. But that belief has been proven wrong. In fact, psychosis of almost any type can manifest later in life. As a result, some elderly people experience symptoms like delusions, sensory hallucinations, false beliefs, and paranoia. And those can lead to increased isolation because of erratic and unusual social behavior.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): Seniors who have witnessed or survived a dangerous or shocking event can develop this challenging mental condition. Long after the event, they may continue to have “fight-or-flight” feelings, especially when triggered by certain sights, sounds, smells, or situations. Even when they are safe at home, they can experience a host of symptoms that make it difficult to live a normal life.
  • Addiction: Some seniors have substance abuse problems or behavioral addictions that negatively impact their lives. But, when it comes to the elderly, addiction is frequently overlooked by friends, family, or caregivers. And doctors sometimes fail to diagnose addictions in the elderly since the symptoms can mirror those of other mental health conditions.

More on:

Common Warning Signs &
Prevention & Treatment: Mental Health Tips for Seniors

References from the World Health Organization ( WHO )