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What Are The Signs Of Anxiety And Depression In Elderly People?

December 22nd, 2022

Elderly mental health concerns are on the rise. Mental health issues can arise at any time of life; even if you’ve never experienced low mood, depression, or anxiety throughout the rest of your life, these illnesses can strike at any time. 

Declining mental health in the elderly could be due to grief, a change in circumstances, loneliness, hormonal changes, or it may simply come out of the blue.

If you look after an older person, it’s important to know the signs of depression and symptoms of anxiety in the elderly, so you can access the best support as quickly as possible if you’re worried their mental health may be declining. Keep reading to learn more about mental health in the elderly, as well as what type of support is available.

Elderly Mental Health: The Big Picture

older people holding hands for support

The full extent of mental health in the elderly is unknown, as there will be many people not seeking help for their symptoms. However, there are some statistics that show the bigger picture; data from the Health and Social Care Information Centre reported by Age UK shows that 28% of women and 22% of men aged 65 and over in the UK suffer from depression. This data is from a few years ago, which means the true figure is only likely to have increased.

Anxiety in elderly people is the next most common mental health condition among this age group, with Age UK’s research showing that 1 in 4 older people are living with some form of mental health condition in total. This research was published in 2019, and is likely to have grown since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A change in mental health in elderly people may be attributed to dementia in some cases. Statistics from the Alzheimer’s Society indicate that around 20-40% of people living with dementia are also living with depression. Of course, this isn’t the only factor behind depression in elderly people, so if you have any concerns about a loved one’s mental health, you should always speak to your GP for professional advice.

Symptoms Of Anxiety In The Elderly

scrabble tiles spelling out 'anxiety'

It’s a common misconception that excessive worrying is the main sign of anxiety. Symptoms of anxiety in the elderly (and indeed in other age groups) can also include the following:

  • Feeling nauseous
  • Excess sweating
  • Feeling restless and irritable
  • Dizziness
  • Changes in your breathing pattern – anxiety in elderly people can make breathing more shallow
  • A feeling of tightness in the chest
  • Digestion issues

Not all of these signs of anxiety in elderly people are always an indicator of anxiety, as they can also be a symptom of another illness, particularly tightness in the chest and digestive issues. If you ever have any concerns about these symptoms, you should always speak to your GP or call 111. In the event of chest pain, you should always call 999.

Depression In Elderly: Signs To Look Out For

Depression in elderly people may be linked to dementia, but not always. This means that signs of depression in the elderly may not necessarily be clear to identify, as they could be put down to ageing or a degenerative condition instead. 

Signs of depression in elderly people can include:

  • Lack of interest in activities you used to enjoy
  • Shutting yourself off from social situations or withdrawing from communicating with your loved ones
  • Low self-esteem
  • Tiredness – you may sleep a lot of the time, struggle to get out of bed, or find it difficult to fall asleep at all
  • Sudden, unexplained weight loss
  • Loss of appetite or lack of interest in food or mealtimes 

If you notice any of these signs of depression in the elderly, either in yourself or in a loved one, don’t struggle in silence. Share your concerns with your GP or someone you trust who’ll be able to find you help, or contact a charity such as the Samaritans, who have a 24/7 helpline. 

What Support Is Available For Elderly Mental Health Concerns?

older man at GP appointment

If you have any concerns at all about your own or a loved one’s elderly mental health, you should always speak to your GP. The Samaritans have a 24/7 helpline that will connect you with someone to talk to at any time of day or night, and private therapists are also available for everything from grief counselling to cognitive behavioural therapy. Use the Counselling Directory to find someone who may be able to help you. 

Your GP may refer you for counselling on the NHS, or to specialist in elderly mental health, who could be an expert in the psychological or cognitive issues associated with ageing. 

Medication such as antidepressants or anti-anxiety medication may also be recommended by your GP. If you’re waiting for a loved one’s referral appointment or for new medication to start working, make sure you’re checking in with them regularly so you can spot any signs of their condition deteriorating. You might like to set up a rota of family, friends, and neighbours to visit or speak to them to help prevent loneliness and isolation, which are some of the most common factors behind a decline in mental health in elderly people.

What Does An Elderly Mental Health Assessment Involve?

counselling appointment

Your GP might refer you to a mental health professional, where an elderly mental health assessment may be carried out. This will take into account any degenerative conditions that may be a factor in your mental health, as well as your mental health history, current symptoms, and your thoughts and feelings.

You might like to prepare for an elderly mental health assessment by making notes in advance to ensure you don’t forget anything that you want to say. Take along a relative or someone you trust to your appointment, who’ll be able to reassure you and help answer any questions you may find difficult.

An elderly mental health assessment will often take the form of an open conversation, so it’s nothing to worry about. Make sure you ask any questions that you need to during the appointment – if there’s anything you don’t understand, ask the healthcare professional to repeat or explain things as needed.

Elderly Mental Health Support At New Care Homes

At New Care homes, all of our care home staff are trained to deliver care and activities to support our residents’ physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing as part of the Oomph! programme. Our staff are always on hand to spot any signs that residents’ mental health may be declining, and we’ll always communicate any changes that we notice.

Having your loved one cared for in one of our care homes could benefit your mental health too. Caring can take its toll, especially if you’ve been navigating elderly mental health problems too. We offer respite care at New Care homes to provide both you and your loved one with a break, so you can return to the caring relationship feeling refreshed. Read more about how to know if respite care is the right choice for your family.

You can be sure that your loved ones are in safe hands with New Care. If you have any questions about our care services, please don’t hesitate to contact us.