Geriatric psychology is an important branch of psychology that focuses on the mental, emotional, and physical problems faced by elderly individuals. This often includes studying and researching different problems that might occur as a person begins nearing the end of their life in old age.
At one point in time, it was only the physical problems of old age that were addressed for the most part. The problems that elderly people faced mentally and emotionally weren't necessarily dismissed, but they weren't always addressed. Elderly people were often just treated and kept physically comfortable until their time was up. During the 20th century, it was Dr. Marjorie Warren that first tried to change this. Warren believed that it was not only important to take care of the physical comfort of an elderly person, but also treat mental and emotional disturbances as well. Through her research, she found that elderly individuals that were cared for in this manner were more likely to become or stay independent.
Little attention was given to geriatric psychology, however, until the 1970's. It was around this time that many of the psychology pioneers of the day were elderly themselves, and they started dealing with age related problems, like Alzheimer's and dementia.
Intellectual changes in healthy old people are slight and not of practical significance. When intellectual changes are suspected, patients should be examined very carefully in a relaxed situation so they do not feel they are being `tested'. The physician should be aware of the differential diagnosis of psychiatric disorders in the elderly and not simply label patients as `senile'. The elderly are subject to acute brain syndromes caused by physical illness or drug toxicity. When acute brain syndromes are excluded, the illness is as likely to be a functional one as a chronic organic brain syndrome. The most common functional illness in old age is depression. More accurate diagnosis of elderly, mentally ill patients will lead to more effective treatment and management.
The Geriatric MentalbHealth Foundation lists a number of potential triggers for mental illness in the elderly:
Alcohol or substance abuseChange of environment, like moving into assisted livingDementia-causing illness (e.g. Alzheimer’s disease)Illness or loss of a loved oneLong-term illness (e.g., cancer or heart disease)Medication interactionsPhysical disabilityPhysical illnesses that can affect emotion, memory and thoughtPoor diet or malnutrition
10 Symptoms of Mental Illness
As our loved ones’ age, it’s natural for some changes to occur. Regular forgetfulness is one thing, however; persistent cognitive or memory loss is another thing and potentially serious.
The same goes for extreme anxiety or long-term depression. Caregivers should keep an eye out for the following warning signs, which could indicate a mental health concern:
Changes in appearance or dress, or problems maintaining the home or yard.
Confusion, disorientation, problems with concentration or decision-making.
Decrease or increase in appetite; changes in weight.Depressed mood lasting longer than two weeks.
Feelings of worthlessness, inappropriate guilt, helplessness; thoughts of suicide.
Memory loss, especially recent or short-term memory problems.
Physical problems that can’t otherwise be explained: aches, constipation, etc.S
Social withdrawal; loss of interest in things that used to be enjoyable.
Trouble handling finances or working with numbers.
Unexplained fatigue, energy loss or sleep changes.