Mental illness is not an inevitable part of ageing. If you are concerned about changes in the mental health of an elderly loved one, please seek professional advice. It can be hard to spot the signs of mental illness in the elderly, but the sooner we can support our loved ones with their mental health, the better the outcome.

Common Mental Health Disorders in the Elderly and Their Symptoms

Mental illness can affect all of us, but certain disorders are more common than others. If your elderly loved one has had a mental illness at any point in their life, such as depression, then be particularly vigilant. This is especially important after changes or upheavals which may trigger the mental illness.


Depression can occur at any age, but it is important to watch for signs of depression in older adults.


Depression can manifest in different ways. A loss of interest in activities or normal pastimes is one of the common symptoms of depression. Negative talk, or low mood which lasts for longer than two weeks. Everyone has a bad day, but it is when the low mood doesn’t lift that it could be depression. Loss of appetite often comes with depression, which has a knock-on effect and can cause further health issues. Problems or changes with sleep, either sleeping too much or struggling to sleep, can also occur with depression. As with all health issues, the key is to look for change.

Risk factors

There is no decisive factor that determines whether you or a loved one will develop depression. It comes down to a combination of genetics and environment. Older adults, who have previously suffered from depression, are more at risk. Depression can be triggered by life events, such as the loss of a spouse, a change in living arrangements, or a decline in physical health. Be vigilant around older adults after big life changes.


Anxiety is a common mental health disorder, and can often occur in older adults.


Anxiety symptoms include a feeling of being on edge, and constantly worrying. It can cause your muscles to feel tense, and inhibit your ability to fall asleep. Watch out for irritability that is unusual or poor concentration in your loved ones.

Risk factors

Ageing can be difficult, with the loss of independence, declining physical health, and bereavement. All these can increase the risk of older adults developing anxiety. World events such as the global pandemic increased anxiety, especially amongst the elderly and those with pre-existing health conditions.


Bipolar can be difficult to spot if you only see your loved one once a week, but try to keep track of their moods if you have any concerns.


The distinguishing factor of bipolar is extreme mood swings. People with bipolar will fluctuate between mania and depression. Mania can bring behaviour such as endless new ideas, excessive spending, out-of-character happiness, and lack of desire to sleep. Whereas depression brings low mood, negative thoughts, and self-hate. It is the fluctuation between the two that is the hallmark of this mental illness.

Risk factors

Bipolar disorder is a complex mental illness. It is known to have a genetic component, so be extra vigilant if another family member has this disorder. Stress appears to be the major trigger for bipolar, so keep an eye on older adults after life events such as bereavement.


Some forgetfulness in older adults is normal, but when it becomes common and distressing, then it may be the beginning of dementia.


One of the most common symptoms of dementia is forgetfulness. This is not forgetting where you have put your car keys, which is something that we all do, but forgetting everyday tasks, such as turning the gas off, or not knowing if you have eaten lunch. It can cause anxiety, mood swings and sleep issues.

Risk factors

Age is the biggest factor in the onset of dementia. Whilst there is no good alternative to ageing, there are other factors that can influence your likelihood of developing dementia. Environmental factors such as smoking, excessive drinking, and pollution can all impact your risk factors. Keeping your brain active and engaged throughout your life can build a greater cognitive reserve, which can help delay the onset of dementia.

Challenges in Diagnosing Mental Illness in Older Adults

It can be challenging to diagnose mental illness in seniors. Life can get harder as we get older, and declining physical health can lead to a loss of independence. Many older adults struggle with needing help, or the inevitable change in housing situations as they can no longer care for themselves. The loss of a spouse can be extremely distressing and can lead to mental illness. If your loved one is ageing, it can be difficult to see what is mental illness, and what is the coping mechanism of an ageing person coping with change and upheaval in their world.

Importance of Early Detection and Intervention for Better Health

No matter what age a person is, early intervention is always better for mental illness. The quicker treatment and support can be obtained, the less entrenched the illness becomes. If you are concerned about the mental health of a loved one, then monitor their moods. Everyone’s moods go up and down, we are not constantly happy, but if your loved one is experiencing prolonged episodes of low mood then this is a key indicator. The more frequently that you can visit, the more likely you are to get a feel for their mood. If they are living at home, keep an eye out for signs of change within the home. Cleaning and tidying can seem too difficult if someone is depressed. Mental illness is both better understood and treated better than it used to be, and intervention is essential to restore good health. Older adults can still feel the stigma around mental illness, so it is worth discussing how different the world is now with them.

Addressing Mental Health Issues in Seniors and Providing Care Services

Mental illnesses vary in severity. Older adults can benefit from herbal remedies as offered by your local pharmacy, through to admission into mental health homes, with trained mental health staff on hand 24/7. Both ends of the spectrum, can and should be treated. If you have concerns about the mental health of a loved one, contact a professional for mental wellbeing advice and support.

Looking for a Mental Health Care Home Provider?

Here at St Philips Care, we have specialist mental health homes, where we can provide round-the-clock care services to those with severe mental illness. Our trained and compassionate staff provide a safe and engaging environment for those suffering from mental illnesses. Mental health care homes give residents a place where they can enjoy life, in a contained and caring environment. Many of our mental health homes have self-contained flats so that our residents can live independently, but with support on hand when needed. Our care is always personalised and tailored to the individual so that whatever support you need for your mental illness, our team is on hand to provide it. If you are concerned about the mental health of a loved one, please contact a professional. To see what our mental health homes have to offer, contact our friendly team today!