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All too many times overwhelmed caregivers are physically and emotionally depleted and need to take time to rest and care for themselves. Believing in a holistic approach to caregiver stress and a strong commitment to helping our members find the right solutions, we created this blog to help you connect with others who, like you, may be facing the same eldercare issues and challenges. Feel free to comment, ask questions, and submit articles. Please forward the blog link to your family and friends. They'll be glad you did.

Warm regards,

Patricia Grace
founder & CEO
Aging with Grace

Monday, October 03, 2011

The Challenge of Mental Illness in the Elderly

Mental illness presents stresses and challenges at any age or stage of life, but seniors who must deal with issues of aging in addition to a long standing or newly diagnosed mental illness often face overwhelming issues. In addition, most elderly people who have long term mental illness never sought medical attention and treatment for their conditions due to societal attitudes towards mental illness years ago. And those with acquired mental illness remain reluctant to seek psychiatric care, again due to old stigmas about mental illness.

Seniors with age-acquired mental illness

It is not unusual for people to acquire certain mental illnesses after age 65. Depression, for example, is quite common in older persons due in part to the inevitable losses which occur with aging. Also, changes in brain chemistry can cause profound depression in older adults. Several physical problems, including transient ischemic attacks (TIAs), strokes, Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias often cause paranoid thoughts, delusions, hallucinations and aggressive actions. These acquired mental illnesses are often very frightening to the individual and to his or her family members. While symptoms of depression may be – unfortunately – very subtle, the delusional and paranoid behaviors are very distressing to families who previously enjoyed positive relationships with the senior. The senior may accuse his children of trying to take his money, his wife of having an affair, the government of beaming messages to him via the TV, and other such misperceptions. The result of the senior’s delusions is usually increased isolation from those trying to provide care and assistance.

Mental health treatment options for seniors

Effective treatment is available for mental illness of seniors. The first step to obtaining quality mental health care is to have a thorough history and physical exam by a qualified internal medicine physician or geriatrician. The purpose of this exam is to identify any physical problems which need treatment or which may be causing symptoms of mental illness. Help in arranging for treatment of any physical problems may be needed if the senior is unable or unwilling to make necessary arrangements.

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