While some may continue associating the elderly with senility, statistics indicate that approximately 15 percent suffer from some form of psychological disorder. Some of the more common disorders include anxiety, depression and dementia. While psychiatric disorders may occur secondary to cerebrovascular disease or neurodegenertion, infections, medications or life stressors might also be causative factors.
While various life events can precipitate anxiety and stress, anxiety disorder is different. Up to 14 percent of older Americans suffer from an anxiety disorder, which is characterized by chronic fear or worry that becomes progressively more severe with time. The disorder may develop in conjunction with a chronic illness or with the onset of depression symptoms. Elderly adults may suffer from one of six different anxiety disorders.
Elderly people may develop depression in lieu of developing a chronic or disabling medical condition, living with continual and inappropriately managed pain, after losing a loved one, when confronted with retirement, the prospect of having to leave familiar surroundings or from living through other stressful life events. Geriatric depression might also develop if an individual has vascular disease processes that restrict blood and oxygen flow to the brain, which interferes with normal neuron communication or damages delicate tissues.
Dementia is a generic term that refers to any number of disorders characterized by abnormal brain function. People living with dementia display multiple deficiencies with memory, language or self-care abilities. They often display a change in personality and may become agitated or aggressive. Some experience audible or visual hallucinations. Dementia may be a symptom of the physical changes in the brain that are associated with various conditions that include Alzheimer's disease or Parkinson's disorder. Elderly people might also develop dementia as a side effect of certain medications. Testing and imaging studies can also determine if dementia symptoms are caused by:
• Bacterial, fungal or viral infections
• Endocrine or metabolic disorders
• Nutritional deficiencies
• Blood clots in the brain
• Brain tumors
• Abnormally enlarged cerebral ventricles
Some studies suggest that up to 15 percent of the elderly population has some form of substance abuse. Not unlike depression, various life events may lead to substance abuse in older people. Geriatric patients may turn to alcohol or misuse prescription medications as a means of self-medicating to overcome anxiety or depression. Some may take analgesic or psychiatric medications that have a potential for addiction, become tolerant of the prescribed dose and begin taking larger or more frequent doses. However, natural changes that take place in the body during the aging process affect the way substances are digested, metabolized and eliminated, which can lead to organ damage or dangerous interactions with other medications.