Mental Illness vs. Dementia in the Elderly

dementia in the elderlyWhen people think of dementia, it’s common to think of it as a mental illness due to the effects the condition has on the brain. However, there are distinctions that should be made between dementia and mental illness in order to properly diagnose the individual. While dementia does affect mental health, it is not a mental illness, but a disorder of the brain that causes memory loss and trouble with communicating.

Proper diagnosis of mental illness or dementia in the elderly is vital in order ensure that appropriate treatment is provided as soon as possible. Misdiagnosis of mental illness in seniors can occur easily since symptoms are so similar to dementia, like confusion and erratic behavior.

Dementia symptoms

The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, which causes cells in the brain that control memory to die. It is an irreversible condition that occurs in severe and moderate stages in three million people over the age of 65.

While dementia does affect all individuals differently, the main symptoms of dementia include:

  • Difficulty communicating. Dementia patients often have a difficult time completing sentences or finding the right words. Also, words can get mixed up or used incorrectly.
  • Increased memory issues. Forgetfulness will start to occur more and more often, along with problems remembering how to do daily activities like cooking, cleaning and dressing.
  • General confusion. Those with dementia begin getting confused about what time of day it is, or even what year they’re living in. They also have a hard time recognizing friends and family members or think they are someone else entirely. Dementia patients may also start losing or misplacing items, even accusing others of stealing their belongings.
  • Personality and emotional changes. Dementia will cause personality changes to individuals, and can affect their moods as well. Those with dementia are often fearful or depressed and experience severe mood swings.

Common Mental Illnesses in the Elderly

If a senior is displaying signs of mental illness, it’s important to recognize the symptoms and seek treatment as soon as possible. Some of the common mental illnesses the elderly experience are:

  • Depression. Depression is considered the most common mental disorder among seniors. Social isolation plays a major role in emotional wellness, so when a senior spends long periods alone because they are unable to drive or live far away from friends and family, depression can easily set in. It is also a symptom of dementia and tends to get overlooked as a treatable ailment.
  • Late onset bipolar. Most bipolar patients are diagnosed in early adulthood. Late onset bipolar can be difficult to diagnose because of its similarities to dementia symptoms like agitation, manic behavior and delusions.
  • Late onset schizophrenia. This disorder also presents a challenge to diagnose. It can manifest in adults after age 45 and appears as the patient ages. Symptoms are similar to dementia, once again, with hallucinations and paranoia the most common, but these symptoms are milder than when this illness appears in younger adults.

Mental illnesses are treatable, but the trick is a correct diagnosis. Even if a senior had good mental health throughout their entire life, the risk of mental illness in later years is still there. Seek medical treatment as soon as possible if there are any noticeable changes beginning to occur.

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