Psychological Challenges of Aging

Caregiving presents a myriad of psychological challenges for both the caregiver and the person receiving care. Understanding that these challenges exist can aid solutions and support for a loved one. You may also benefit from TCF’s Mental Illnesses page, or our General Resources page, which provides links to other online resources for myriad issues, including Mental Health Care.
 
A physician can help determine if you or a loved one has an anxiety disorder or related medical condition. Treatment can include medication, therapy, stress reduction and coping skills, and family or other social support. For links to providers and other online resources, please see TCF’s General Resource: Mental Health page.
 
Three of the most common psychological challenges for seniors are:
 

Anxiety

Feeling anxious or nervous is a common emotion for people of all ages and a normal reaction to stress. However, feeling constant or overwhelming anxiety can affect your physical and mental health and all other aspects of your life. This type of anxiety benefits from discussion and treatment (therapy and/or prescription drugs). Untreated anxiety disorders can lead to cognitive impairment, disability, poor physical health, and a poor quality of life.
 
An anxiety disorder causes feelings of fear, worry, apprehension or dread that are excessive or disproportionate to the current problem or situation. Identifying anxiety in older adults is important because it is often linked to depression, worsening memory, and other physical and mental health conditions.
 
(Information taken from Geriatric Mental Health Foundation)
 

Dementia

There was a time when people used to think that forgetfulness and confusion were a normal part of aging, something as inevitable as menopause or reading glasses. However, now that we know that most adults do not normally develop memory loss and should remain alert and able as they age, some new misconceptions have come to replace the old ones. Perhaps one of the most common of these misconceptions is the notion that having memory lapses automatically foreshadows the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. This is not the case. People become forgetful for any variety of reason, and most of them don’t have anything to do with Alzheimer’s. For example nutritional deficiencies, medications, and sleep disorders can contribute to temporary memory loss.
 
On the other hand, some memory problems will indicate a more serious condition and can mean that the person suffering from it has dementia. Some of the more common symptoms include:

  • Short-term memory loss. A person may remember details from long-ago memories (what she wore to senior prom) but cannot recall was was said to her or what she was doing a few minutes ago. The person may ask the same question repeatedly or repeat the same actions (e.g. eating a meal).
  • Problems with use and comprehension of language (i.e. aphasia). A person may substitute words that make no sense in context of what is being said. They may forget simple everyday words like “toothbrush” or “fork.”
  • Disorientation: Confusion with current date or place, own identity.

 
If you suspect a loved one has dementia, it is important to consult a geriatric specialist (internist, psychiatrist, or neurologist) to determine which steps to take to help your loved one. They will test mental acuity, memory, alertness, and conduct physical and neurological exams. For links to providers and other online resources, please see TCF’s General Resource: Mental Health page.
 
(Information taken from A Place for Mom’s Senior Care Resources)
 

Depression

Depression among older adults is far more common than we freely admit. Some estimates place the condition in 8-20% of older adults nationwide. Here in Hawaii the estimates are lower – 4-8 % but for those residents in nursing homes the estimate jumps to 70%!
 
It’s not hard to imagine why. They have lost much of their personal dignity to physical conditions they have little or no control over. They are not able to make many personal decisions concerning schedules, activities or even what they will eat and drink. And on top of all that – they are living somewhere unfamiliar, among other people they usually do not know and sometimes with whom they cannot even communicate.
 
But it is important for caregivers to understand that while we may be able to identify factors that can promote depression, the condition itself is NOT a normal condition of aging. It is a treatable condition in over 90% of those affected.
 
Depression can increase with age (especially in men), and is often linked with suicidal thoughts. Adults over the age of 85 commit suicide at almost twice the rate of all ages combined. Depression can also contribute to premature death from numerous related illnesses and conditions.
 
Read more at the link to Doug Krieder’s article : Is It Depression or Something Else?
 
For links to providers and other online resources, please see TCF’s General Resource: Mental Health page.