Senior Living Care Blog

Signs of Mental Illness in the Elderly

Posted by Jackson Bentley on Jun 13, 2018 11:00:00 AM

With the end of Mental Health Awareness Month, we’d like to wrap up with short guide on identifying signs of mental illness in the elderly. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 20% of adults aged 55 or older have experienced a mental health concern. Mental Health is essential to overall physical well being, so it’s important that caregivers and relatives of the elderly are able to identify any signs of mental illness before they become endemic. 


Mental Health Problems in the Elderly


The most common symptoms of mental health issues in the elderly are anxiety, cognitive impairment, and depression. Of any age group in America in fact, older males (age 85 or over) have the highest suicide rate of any age group, at a rate of 45 per 100,000 compared to the average rate of 11 per 100,000 for all ages. Older adults that have been diagnosed with depression are associated with higher amounts of doctor visits, emergency room visits, more medication, and higher healthcare costs overall. The CDC conducts an annual survey related to mental health questions and last year published the following statistics.

  • For seniors age 50 and older, males were more likely than females to report that they did not receive the social and emotional support necessary.
  • Seniors aged 65 and older were more likely than those aged 50-64 to report that they did not receive the social and emotional support necessary.
  • Fortunately, the majority of seniors aged 50 and older (90%) reported that they were receiving adequate support when it comes to social and emotional support.
  • Having an adequate amount of social and emotional support is associated with a reduction is risk for mortality, mental health issues, and physical illness.
  • Almost 95% of adults aged 50 and older described themselves as being satisfied overall, with 5% reporting.
  • Males and females aged 50 and older described themselves with nearly identical percentages of life satisfaction.
  • Only 7.7% of seniors aged 50 or older described themselves as depressed. With 15% of those seniors diagnosing themselves with a lifelong period of depression.
  • Seniors were found less likely to report psychological symptoms of mental illness and more likely to report physical complaints.
  • Currently there are roughly 5 million seniors aged 65 and older diagnosed with Alzheimer's, equating to nearly 11% of the U.S. senior population.


The statistics indicate that the majority of seniors are getting the adequate support they need in terms of emotional and social support. However, if 10% of seniors are not getting the right treatment, that means more than 5 million seniors could be suffering from a mental illness without a source of support and stability.


Senior women talking with their caregiver about mental illness while they enjoy tea.

Identifying Signs of Mental Illness in the Elderly

As we age, the body tends to accrue some incremental changes that can affect mobility, mental health, and acuity. Forgetfulness is expected, but continual lapses in memory and judgement may warrant further consideration or a visit to the doctor. Here are signs to watch out for that could indicate a host of mental health issues:

  • Short term memory loss related to tasks just completed, as well as long term lapses in memory concerning names, dates, events, and relationships.
  • Disheveled appearance, mismatched clothes, or just sudden changes in overall display, whether it be their outfit, the cleanliness of their car, or how a home is furnished.
  • Depressed mood, lethargy, negative emotional states that last longer than a couple weeks.
  • Confusion about time and place, disorientation, and problems with decision making and logic.
  • Physical pains such as stomach cramps and muscle spasms. Diarrhea, constipation, sudden bedwetting and other involuntary digestive system reactions.
  • Trouble with finances, lapses in bill payments, poor money handling skills.
  • Social anxiety, becoming more withdrawn, less inclined to go out in public.
  • Poor hygiene such as smelly clothes, body odor, unkempt hair, teeth, and nails.


None of these signs are guaranteed symptoms of a mental illness. They are simply benchmarks that one could use to potentially become alerted to the onset of mental illness in an elderly person. For example, any of these signs could simply be a person’s character or habit, but the sudden appearance of them in a person who otherwise wouldn’t display these signs is cause for worry. As are the appearance of multiple signs.

If you think a loved one may be displaying early onset signs of a mental illness, don’t hesitate to reach out to a professional in the mental health field. There are counselors, geriatric psychiatrists, and family psychologists who could potentially help your loved one get the care they need. You could also seek out an assisted living facility that offers memory care or other specialized services.



Types of Services Offered by Assisted Living and Caregivers



Personal Care

These types of services including helping seniors to get dressed, taking care of personal hygiene through cleaning, bathing, and grooming, and helping with daily tasks like walking.


Meal Making

At an assisted living facility seniors will get to experience multiple types of dishes on a daily basis. The menus are often changed on monthly or weekly basis and are especially designed with the nutrition needs of seniors in mind. If you opt for at at-home caregiver, you can give this person a grocery list and have them assist with purchasing and helping to prepare the meals. This gives the senior greater freedom and independence.


Medication Management

Does your senior require the daily taking of medication for a physical or mental health issue? At an assisted living facility, your loved one will be taken care of by staff that can administer the proper dosage of medication on a daily basis, eliminating the need to worry about your senior forgetting to take or misplacing their medication.


Medical Care

Assisted living facilities contain registered nurses who provide medical care, monitor conditions, and help patients restore motor control, speech, and cognitive skills.


Moving Forward

At Landmark Senior Living, caregivers can monitor your loved one’s condition and help administer medication, as well as promoting their senior mental health. At these facilities, they will be taken care of in a loving, supportive environment built around the specific needs and challenges they face as a senior. 


Learn More Here



Topics: Senior Mental Health

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