Mental Health Issues Can Tarnish "The Golden Years"

For many "baby boomers" whose parents and family members are aging, the ultimate goal is to help their loved ones live as normal of lives as possible and enjoy their "golden years" to their fullest extent.

But as people age, they not only experience a wide range of physical changes that prevent them from accomplishing even the simplest of daily tasks, but also a myriad of mental health issues.

Mental health concerns of older adults include difficulty coping with change, stress, complications of bereavement, depression, memory problems, dementia, anxiety, or agitation associated with dementia.

Persistent personality changes or unusual behavior most commonly indicate a mental illness such as depression. Symptoms of depression can begin at any age and for no apparent reason. For many seniors, however, the symptoms of depression often go unrecognized. Some may attribute their feelings to "old age."

Others may not realize that new medications can cause emotional changes. As a result, it's important for seniors and those who care for them to be aware of the symptoms of depression. The National Institute of Mental Health says these include:

  • Persistent sadness or emptiness

  • Feelings of despair or hopelessness

  • Inability to enjoy everyday activities

  • Changes in sleep patterns such as chronic insomnia or oversleeping

  • Thoughts of death or suicide

In addition, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill says that seniors may experience other symptoms, including memory problems, confusion, social withdrawal, loss of appetite, and, in some cases, delusions and hallucinations. NAMI says many seniors, thinking that depression is an inevitable sign of aging, ignore or deny their symptoms.

According to Wolfgang Kuhn, M.D., a psychiatrist and clinical director of the new Geropsychiatric Treatment Services Program at Louisville's CARITAS Peace Center, "Recognizing and treating these mental disorders in the elderly is vital, as they can cause disability, increased rates of hospitalization, nursing home admissions and higher mortality if left untreated. Older adults who can no longer manage the activities of daily living or who are exhibiting significant mood swings or behavioral changes are candidates for assessment and treatment in a program which specializes in the mental health issues of the aging."

Ask yourself . . .

The following is a list of questions that can help you determine whether you or someone you care about could benefit from professional help. All of the questions represent some important part of thinking or behavior that can be addressed through mental health services. A "yes" answer to one or more questions may suggest that you could benefit from a mental health assessment or intervention. Ask yourself . . .

  • Have I noticed a change in my behavior?

  • Do I feel more disoriented, confused, or easily agitated than usual?

  • Do I feel strong and repeated concerns about death or dying?

    Have I not been taking my medication for mental health problems as it is prescribed?

  • Do I find myself arguing a lot with my family and my neighbors?

  • Do I find myself in a bad mood more than usual?

  • Do I avoid being with people and feel anxious when I talk with people?

  • Do I feel pains and aches that don't have any medical basis?

  • Have I been drinking excessive amounts of alcohol or taking drugs?

  • Do I have more trouble functioning in the community than in the past?

  • Do I find myself wandering around not sure of what I am doing or where I am going?

  • Have I not been eating or caring for my personal hygiene?

  • Am I suspicious of others including my friends and family?

  • Do I find no pleasure in doing things that I used to enjoy a great deal?

  • Do I feel hopeless or worthless?

  • Do I feel more nervous and worried than usual without any reason?

  • Do I feel that it doesn't matter if I live or die?

If you feel that you, or someone you know, may benefit from the services of a mental health professional, the inpatient Geropsychiatric Treatment Services Program and the outpatient Older Adult Partial Hospital Program at Louisville's CARITAS Peace Center may just be the answer.

Both programs are for people 65 years of age and older who require intensive treatment and support for serious mental health problems. Most frequently, these seniors need either the 24-hour care of an inpatient program or a day treatment program while they transition from the inpatient setting to their homes or to another community assisted living setting.

Once a diagnosis is made, the geriatric psychiatrist and the staff at CARITAS Peace Center work closely with family members to provide education, offer support and develop after-care plans. The doctor works with all the other health care professionals, developing and implementing a comprehensive treatment plan that addresses all aspects of the illness and identifies the most effective ways of managing patient care for the elderly through therapy and behavioral modification.

The CARITAS staff recognizes the importance of managing medical concerns and collaborating with family and other caregivers. When the patient is ready to leave the hospital, the patient and the family work with the treatment team to develop appropriate aftercare plans.

For more information or to schedule a free assessment, call the CARITAS Peace Center at (502) 451-3333 or 1-800-451-3676. Staff is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. All information is treated as completely confidential.