Mental Health Treatment for Seniors
The senior population offers unique challenges in mental health treatment. The therapists at Renewal Behavioral Health are experts in treating mental health issues such as depression and bipolar disorder. Our therapists not only address mental health issues but also educate seniors on topics such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Treating mental health in seniors can range from accepting the daily challenges of getting older to re-learning to live with changes in the brain. As people age, neurological and psychological changes can be life-altering. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), around 15% of seniors have a mental illness. While almost 7 percent of the people in this age group are on disability for psychiatric and neurological disorders.
Comprehensive Guide to Mental Health Issues in Seniors
Mental health is, by far, the essential aspect of a person’s overall health and wellness. A person’s mental health can affect everything from their eating to their work-life to their physical health.
Renewal Behavioral Health offers comprehensive diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up care for seniors who are struggling with mental and behavioral issues. These issues can include anxiety, cognitive impairments, behavioral disorders, and mood disorders. Some behavioral problems can be so violent that it prevents an individual from living in a long-term care facility. At the same time, other complications can affect a person’s ability to live alone and can require lifetime care.
Mental Health Disorders Plaguing Seniors
Anxiety is a disorder that causes undue fear, worry, and dread over a situation. Almost 15% of senior adults suffer from clinical anxiety that affects their daily lives. While nearly 30% of senior adults suffer without a diagnosis. The most common types of anxiety disorders seniors suffer from are:
Panic attacks are sudden feelings of fear that happen without warning. The physical symptoms of panic attacks are:
- chest pain
- shortness of breath
- racing heart
- fear of dying.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is an uncontrollable need to do something repeatedly. More than 2 million people suffer from OCD. Some rituals of OCD are:
- Repeatedly washing hands
- Having the same thoughts over and over
- Obsessive counting
- Repeated thoughts of violence
Elderly individuals who suffer from OCD do not like their behavior and, at times, can be ashamed, but doing so relieves anxiety. If OCD develops later in life, the person should be seen by a medical professional to rule out dementia or Alzheimer’s.
A phobia is a disabling and irrational fear of something that isn’t dangerous. These fears prevent an older adult from living their life to the fullest. Common phobias include:
- Agoraphobia – fear of open spaces and big crowds
- Social phobia – social anxiety disorder
- Acrophobia – fear of heights
- Claustrophobia – fear of small spaces
- Arachnophobia – fear of spiders
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Generalized anxiety disorder is a chronic and exaggerated worry about every aspect of life. An older adult suffering from this disorder spends their day worrying about the what-ifs. Physical symptoms are:
- Muscle tension
Depression is the most common mental health issue among seniors. It is more than feeling sad for a day or two. Depression is a serious issue that, if not addressed, right away can lead to serious problems. Some people, especially the older generation, see it as a sign of weakness or that something is wrong with them, so they hide the way they are feeling.
It can be challenging to identify the signs of mental illness in adults. The symptoms of depression in seniors are different than in the younger generation. Depression may come off as tired or irritable. Depression can cause confusion or trouble paying attention, and that can cause worry over Alzheimer’s. So many health issues that seniors may be dealing with have depression as a side effect.
Medical conditions that can result in depression:
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Dementia and Alzheimer’s
- Parkinson’s disease
There are also multiple medications that seniors take that have depression as a side effect. If signs of depression develop when taking medication, it is imperative to call your doctor right away.
There are many types of depression. The two most common types seen in seniors are major depression and persistent depressive disorder.
Major depression is also known as clinical depression. To meet the criteria for this diagnosis, a person must meet five or more of the following criteria.
- A consistent feeling of sadness almost every day all-day
- Difficulty concentrating
- Changes in weight
- Trouble sleeping or staying awake
- Loss of interest in fun things
- Feeling worthless or guilty
- Having suicidal thoughts
Persistent Depressive Disorder (PDD)
Persistent depressive disorder is a chronic form of depression. This type of depression can last for many years and have crippling effects on every aspect of life. Seniors who suffer from this type of depression have a hard time finding happiness in the most joyous of times. A person may get a break from feeling like this, but it is never for more than a month or two. It is possible to suffer from major depression at the same time as a persistent depressive disorder, and it is called double depression.
Other types of depression include seasonal affective disorder, psychotic depression, and situational depression.
Situational depression is depression caused by an event that turns life upside down. Situational depression can occur in older people when they lose their life-partner. Older women especially can suffer from situational depression when they lose their husbands. The fear of who is going to take care of me, and how am I going to live can cause life-threatening depression.
Symptoms of situational depression include:
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Constant crying
- Extreme sadness
- Sleeping all the time
- No desire to do anything
- Neglecting self-care
- Not eating
It is so important for friends and family to spend time with seniors who have lost their life-partner. Not only do they need company, but interacting with a person makes it harder for them to hide depression. If signs and symptoms of depression start appearing, it is crucial to get a therapist involved.
Dissociative disorders can severely disrupt everyday life. Problems with memory, emotions, identity, and behavior could be a mental disorder or could be a symptom of a more serious medical issue. The symptoms of dissociative identity disorder (DDD) are described as a disconnection from who you are or amnesia.
Three types of dissociative disorders:
- Dissociative identity disorder
- Dissociative amnesia
- Depersonalization disorder
Dissociative identity disorder is also known as multiple personality disorder. This disorder is associated with a traumatic event or overwhelming experience. The symptoms of the dissociative disorder include:
- More than one personality that has their behaviors, thoughts, and emotions
- Having gaps in memory daily
- Unable to function in social and work environments because of symptoms
It is estimated that nearly 10 percent of the elderly population suffers from personality disorders. And with the elderly age group growing, the numbers are expected to keep rising. Getting an elderly loved one into treatment as soon as these signs appear is crucial.
Thoughts of suicide are very high in the elderly with dissociative disorders. Suicidal thoughts or attempts are sometimes the first sign that an individual is suffering from this disorder.
Dissociative amnesia is when a person cannot remember personal information. This type of forgetfulness is not normal. Dissociative amnesia is caused by a traumatic event or stressful situation. In older adults, this can happen after the loss of a loved one. Or because of something terrible that happened to them in the past. Amnesia can be:
- Localized – the inability to remember specific events or periods
- Selective – forgetting only parts of events or period
- Generalized – Forgetting who you are, where you went, and not recalling thoughts, emotions, or behaviors
- Systematized amnesia – forgetting a person or a specific subject
- Continuous amnesia – forgetting new events as they happen
Depersonalization disorder is the repeated feeling that you are outside of your body or feeling like your environment isn’t real. It can make a person feel like they are living in a dream. Seniors can be vulnerable to depersonalization disorder due to the fears and stresses of getting older. A senior who lives alone and does not have family around may not get help when the symptoms first start.
- Feeling no control over speech and movements
- Senses are numb
- Feeling like your thoughts and memories are not your own
- The feeling of floating above your body
- Emotionally disconnected
- No perception of time
- Surroundings are not familiar, distorted
Most people do not even know amnesia is happening. Awareness only happens when talking with others. An older individual may seem confused, distressed, or they may not even know something is wrong. Some individuals have reported flashbacks of events that happened during the amnesia. Suicidal behaviors may increase when amnesia suddenly stops. The realization that you had no control throughout your life and the events that occurred during the amnesia may be too much to handle.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental condition that occurs after a traumatic experience. PTSD can affect an individual’s well-being, mentally and physically. An older individual may have experienced an event that was traumatic at a younger age, but symptoms of PTSD don’t appear till they are older. PTSD has three main symptoms:
- Avoidance and emotional numbness: complete withdrawal from anything involving the traumatic event
- Increased arousal: easy to anger and irritate, feeling jumpy, lack of concentration and sleep problems
- Re-experiencing trauma: realistic flashbacks that cause extreme distress, nightmares
Older adults are at a higher risk of having symptoms of PTSD. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), “role changes and functional losses could make coping with memories of earlier trauma more challenging” for older adults. The following are some stressors that can increase the chances of PTSD.
- Reduced income
- Loss of a loved one
- Lack of support
- Cognitive impairment
- Behavioral impairment
As people get older, it becomes more challenging to self-medicate to deal with PTSD. As people age, their children or other family members may begin to monitor meds or help set up their medicine doses. Having someone oversee this makes it hard for a person to abuse their meds. It may also become harder to get around by themselves, so the ability to get drugs off the streets becomes nearly impossible. When an older adult has a hard time adjusting to the changes in life, they may begin to drink more. Continued drinking to escape from the issues at hand can lead to addiction. Depending on the abused substance, it could lead to serious medical emergencies. At this point, not only is the senior dealing with mental health issues but severe withdrawal issues.
Almost 17 percent of individuals over 60 suffer from alcohol and prescription drug abuse. Due to rushed routine doctor appointments, substance abuse is often unrecognized. Substance abuse mimics signs of mental and physical medical problems. The doctors may look for a health reason and not the fact that it is an addiction problem.
Some signs of substance abuse include:
- Memory issues
- Eating changes
- Unexplained pain
- Lack of self-care
- No interest in fun activities
When an individual suffers from mental disorders and addiction, it is called a dual-diagnosis. Medical and mental health doctors and therapists work together to detox the individual safely while designing a mental health treatment plan. The focus of treatment will be relapse prevention and rebuilding a happy and mentally healthy life. A therapist will work with the senior to identify, repair, and prevent the issues at hand.
Treatment Programs for Seniors at Renewal BH
Inpatient Mental Health Treatment
The most intense level of mental health treatment for seniors is inpatient treatment. Individuals live in a secure and safe facility. This treatment is best for seniors who suffer from a severe psychological issue. At Renewal BH, our goal is to help the elderly stabilize their symptoms and design a mental health treatment program. Inpatient treatment is a short-term program. Once a person completes inpatient treatment, they either return to their life or enter residential treatment.
Outpatient Mental Health Treatment
Outpatient treatment for mental health is a step down from inpatient treatment. Older individuals will live at home while attending therapy. Individuals will typically spend 3-5 hours a day 3-5 days a week in treatment. Outpatient mental health treatment at Renewal BH helps seniors learn to balance regular life while focusing on their mental health.
Our programs for older individuals are designed and run by expert therapists. Our staff prides themselves on providing compassionate care for the client and their family. Issues with mental health can be a touchy subject, especially for the older generation. The fear that the life they know could be ripped away can cause them to hide any problems. Our therapists understand these fears and are highly skilled at putting these fears at ease.
The main components of care are as follows:
- Diagnostic evaluation
- Solution-focused treatment programs
- Individual therapy
- Group therapy
- Behavioral therapy
- Medication evaluation and management
- Aftercare planning
How Can Renewal BH Help?