Have you heard? 60 is the new 40. For many adults over 60, that’s definitely true. They’re still working, are active in their communities and maintain totally engaged family and social lives. With access to better healthcare and active lifestyle philosophies, many seniors are working or volunteering well past retirement age and enjoying every minute of it. For them, that’s today’s new normal.

Other seniors are experiencing a different “new normal.” While it isn’t unusual for people to slow down somewhat as they age, at this point in their lives many seniors have experienced devastating personal tragedies like the loss of a spouse, relatives, or friends. Others have lost their ability to live independently through financial loss, illness, chronic pain or other physical or mental conditions. Caregivers or family members may begin to notice drastic changes in their energy level or behavior.

Warning signs like these may signal the beginning of significant changes in your loved ones mental or physical health:

            •  They’re often sad, anxious or sluggish

            •  They’re easily lost or confused

            •  They withdraw from family, friends, or social events

            •  They exhibit aggressive or inappropriate behavior

            •  They have trouble sleeping or have poor eating habits

            •  They’re unable to complete simple tasks

            •  They complain of aches and pains that don’t respond to treatment

With the doctor’s help, it’s important to rule out any physical conditions that may have caused these behaviors to develop. Side effects of medications often trigger changes in behavior. But any, some or all of these behaviors may be symptoms of the two most common forms of mental deterioration aging adults:  depression and dementia.

Depression or Dementia – How To Tell The Difference?

Depression is a serious mental illness that often goes unrecognized and untreated. While it’s normal for seniors to feel sad, lonely or frustrated occasionally, untreated depression can spiral out of control and can have a great impact on the quality of your senior loved one’s daily life. Older adults suffering from depression visit the doctor or emergency room more often, take more medication, and tend to avoid important social interaction. Depression is often the root cause of pain that can’t be attributed to diagnosed physical conditions.

Depression is highly treatable with a combination of therapeutic medication and lifestyle changes such as increased physical activity, regular sleep, a well-balanced diet and regular visits with family or friends.

Dementia is a chronic deterioration in memory, behavior, and the ability to perform everyday tasks and activities. It may also cause noticeable personality changes. The onset is gradual and gets progressively worse over time. While not a normal part of aging, it does affect a significant portion of the senior population, up to 5% of those 65-74 and as many as 40% of those over 85 years of age. Potential red flags for dementia include not recognizing a caregiver or loved one, forgetting how to do common tasks, and the inability to comprehend or retain information. While Alzheimer’s disease is most commonly linked to dementia, it may also be caused by medications, chronic alcoholism, brain tumors or infections, and Parkinson’s disease. 

Currently there is no over-arching cure for dementia, but many tools and treatments are being studied to slow or reverse the effects of this debilitating chronic condition.

Where to go for help?

If you are caring for an aging senior, either as a family member or caregiver, and you suspect that changes in their behavior or health are being triggered by a mental health issue, work with their doctor to rule out any treatable diseases or physical conditions. If no physical cause can be identified, it’s important to create an environment where the senior can remain active, safe and engaged in daily life, as much as possible.

Senior Helpers of the Lehigh Valley can lend a helping hand, as well. When you can’t be there, we’ll be your “eyes” and “ears” and help you manage the day-to-day changes that often accompany aging. We offer a full range of customizable services that range from companion care and light housekeeping to specialized Alzheimer’s and dementia care. Contact us at 610-770-2036 to speak to a senior care expert. 

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