Mental illness is far more common than you may realize – but it’s still not a subject most people want to talk about.
In fact, the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) estimates that one in four American adults experience mental illness over the course of a year. Roughly 60 percent of the 61.5 million Americans affected never seek treatment and continue to live with some form of mental illness.
Without proper treatment these individuals are at a higher risk of having a chronic medical condition as well; their lifespan is roughly 25 years less than those who do not have a mental illness. As you can see, mental illness is quite serious and there is a pressing need to discuss it and breakdown the surrounding stigma.
One faction of the population that faces a higher likelihood of developing a mental illness is seniors. Not only is this group more vulnerable to developing a mental illness, but seniors are also more reluctant to seek treatment and are often misdiagnosed.
To make matters worse, there is not a sufficient supply of trained professionals to deal with this aging population. In fact, the American Psychological Association suggests there are only a reported 4.2 percent of psychologists whose primary focus is the elderly. Resources are limited; there needs to be a stronger push in understanding mental disorders in the elderly.
There are some common mental disorders that seniors have to face. They include dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and depression. Let’s examine each one of these mental disorders in seniors for better understanding and awareness of the illnesses they may face.
Dementia is a mental illness that refers to the cognitive decline of an individual. This means they can lose their memory, have a reduced ability to problem-solve and lack concentration and focus. This occurs because the cells in the brain that assist in these crucial factors begin to die off or damage occurs.
Causes of dementia
As we mentioned, causes of dementia can stem from the death of brain cells or damage to the brain. Alternative causes of dementia include:
Symptoms of dementia
Symptoms of dementia include:
Many of these symptoms can be confused with other illnesses that affect seniors, which is why diagnosing mental disorders in seniors is that much more difficult.
Types of dementia
Dementia is a broad term, which encompasses the loss of memory, so there are many different forms of it, including:
Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia, which means areas of the brain that hold onto memory, behavior and thinking are affected. As the most common form of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease is the diagnosis of 60 to 80 percent of all dementia cases. Common belief is that Alzheimer’s disease is an aging disease and it simply comes with getting old. This is a false assumption, and nearly five percent of cases are people younger than 65. Alzheimer’s disease does worsen over time, and life expectancy is anywhere between four to 20 years.
Causes of Alzheimer’s disease
There are no tell-tale causes for Alzheimer’s disease, but scientists continue to work towards uncovering potential causes. Here are some possible causes of Alzheimer’s disease:
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease
First and foremost, Alzheimer’s disease robs individuals of their memory. It may start off mild and appear as normal forgetfulness associated with aging, but this can dramatically worsen over time. Other symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease include:
Alzheimer’s disease prevention
Because there is no exact cause for Alzheimer’s disease, prevention is still speculative. Some research has shown that diet plays a role in maintaining healthy memory. Eating whole foods, fish and antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, for example. Also keeping your mind busy – whether completing puzzles or learning new skills – may help aid in your cognitive abilities and ward of symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.
Related Reading: The Top Signs You’ll get Alzheimer’s – More Than Just Memory Loss
Another form of dementia, Parkinson’s disease mainly affects the part of the brain that affects movement. Eventually, though, Parkinson’s disease will also begin to affect memory and judgment as well. About two percent of the elderly population – those over 65 – have Parkinson’s disease, making it fairly common.
Causes of Parkinson’s disease
Changes in the brain are the main cause of Parkinson’s disease. Abnormal deposits of the protein alpha-synuclein – also referred to as Lewy bodies – are found along with plaques and tangles – similar to Alzheimer’s disease.
Other potential risk factors include:
Symptoms of Parkinson’s disease
Symptoms of Parkinson’s disease include:
Parkinson’s disease prevention
Similar to Alzheimer’s disease there are currently no proven means of preventing Parkinson’s disease because the exact cause is still unknown. Currently, suggestions for healthy living – exercising and eating well – may delay the onset of Parkinson’s disease.
Depression can affect anyone at any age, and it can range from being quite mild to quite severe. The Canadian Psychological Association estimates that the prevalence of depression in seniors is somewhat low, only at three to five percent. But the number of seniors experiencing symptoms of depression is higher, coming in at 15 percent.
It is difficult, though, to achieve an accurate estimation because seniors often attribute their symptoms to aging and do not feel they have a mental illness. Additionally, symptoms of depression can often be confused with other illnesses, which will get treated first.
Related Reading: The Breakthrough Saliva Test for Parkinson’s Disease
Causes of depression
Some factors that can cause depression in the elderly are:
Symptoms of depression
As mentioned, the symptoms of depression can overlap those of other illnesses, so pinpointing the difference can affect the modes of treatment. Symptoms of depression are:
Types of depression
Like dementia, there are numerous forms of depression. The type of depression you have can determine treatment and severity:
As a means of preventing depression in seniors, ensuring they are not isolated, have strong social ties and have a sense of independence and autonomy is a good start. Other means of preventing depression are:
Related reading: Depression in the elderly causes slower response to treatment
Because mental disorders in the elderly are so often overlooked and misdiagnosed, treatment can be difficult. Raising awareness of common mental illnesses that affect seniors can encourage them to seek help and overcome their mental distress.
Mental illness does not have to be an inevitable cause of aging. As more research comes to light about these common mental disorders, we can create better systems for access and treatment.
Doctors, too, must become better trained to deal with the aging population and detect mental health issues. As communication opens in the area of mental health, we can begin to have better understanding of what seniors really go through – and deter mental health related deaths.
As we age, the threat of developing Alzheimer’s disease increases. Although the cause of Alzheimer’s disease is still unknown, researchers are working diligently to uncover more information to combat this life-changing illness. Continue reading…
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