Adults aged 65 and older, with a serious mental illness, a co-occurring disorder or dementia-like symptoms, are a complex group who are often hard to reach, undeserved and undertreated.

Normal aging does not cause depression, alcohol or prescription drug misuse, hallucinations, notable delusions or development of new or very challenging behaviors. Being an older adult means that life can and should be meaningful and fulfilling; having the ability to participate in the community with activities, friends and events that are meaningful, pleasant and enjoyable. Improving identification of people who have challenging or disturbing behaviors, changes in mood, cognition or other psychiatric symptoms and offering treatment and support is critical to recovery and living a full and satisfying life.

Some, but not all, common causes of concern are shown below, and most are treatable!

  • Newly developed depression or another mental illness that happens as a direct result of co-occurring medical condition or chronic disease
  • Suicidal ideas and risks
  • A severe and persistent mental illness developed earlier in life
  • Medication side effects that mimic symptoms of mental illness or dementia
    • Depressed mood
    • Behavioral disturbances
    • Delusions
  • Substance misuse disorders, accidental or deliberate with prescription, alcohol, or other drugs
  • Nutritional deficiencies that mimic symptoms of mental illness or dementia
  • Symptoms related to dementing illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease, Lewey Body Disease, Vascular dementia or another type of dementia
  • Family caregivers of isolated older adults with mental illness or progressive disabling medical conditions

Seeking help often begins with a primary care doctor or a referral to a specialist such as a geriatrician, geriatric social worker or psychologist, who can help sort through the problems and identify ways to treat and improve symptoms; the best care happens when treatment is integrated and both physical and mental/behavioral health concerns are addressed together.