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Could the Senior in Your Life Be Bipolar?

In the past, we’ve examined senior depression and mental decline. But in celebration of this year’s Mental Illness Awareness Week, we’ve decided to go a different route and instead examine bipolar disorder in older adults. While bipolar disorder is typically diagnosed in young adults, between¬†0.1 to 0.5 percent of people over 65 meet the criteria for late onset bipolar disorder. Additionally, 10 to 25 percent of people over 50 that have mood disorders end up being diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Even though it’s not an epidemic, bipolar disorder in seniors is still something to be wary of.

What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder is a brain illness that causes sufferers to shift between periods of mania and depression. Patients switch between these extreme highs and lows, which prevents them from carrying out day-to-day tasks and causes unusual shifts in mood and energy. Unfortunately, scientists don’t know the cause of or how to cure this disease. There are some treatments available to alleviate symptoms, such as medication, psychotherapy, or electroconvulsive therapy.

Symptoms of manic episode include:

  • Feeling overly happy or outgoing
  • Being extremely irritable
  • Inability to focus on one thought at a time and talking very fast
  • Becoming easily distracted
  • Taking on new projects
  • Feeling overly restless
  • Not feeling tired or not sleeping enough
  • Feeling unrealistically confident in yourself
  • Acting impulsively and choosing high-risk activities

Symptoms of a depressive episode include:

  • Feeling overly sad or hopeless
  • No longer excited about hobbies or enjoyable activities
  • Constantly feeling tired
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, and making decisions
  • Feeling restless and irritable
  • Change in sleeping or eating habits
  • Feeling suicidal

How Can Bipolar Disorder in Older Adults Be Diagnosed?

Diagnosing bipolar disorder in seniors can be tricky, as many other medical conditions mimic the symptoms of this particular disease. Illnesses such as depression, dementia, Alzheimer’s, brain tumors, or stroke can all imitate different mood swings. Additionally, instead of an elevated or positive mood, bipolar disorder in older adults can causes symptoms like confusion or disorientation, which are side effects of many other conditions and medications commonly taken by seniors. In order to diagnose this disease, a doctor must conduct a complete medical examination to rule out all of these various other possibilities. After that, they may then refer the patient to a mental health professional such as a psychiatrist.

What Should I Do if I Think My Loved One Has Bipolar Disorder?

If you think your loved might be suffering from bipolar disorder, please tell us right away. One of our certified mental health nurses can conduct a mental health examination to determine what course of action might be required. After conferring with and receiving orders from your doctor, we can then develop a plan of care to help treat the patient’s mental state. Remember that you are not alone in caring for your loved one. We are always here to help, and there are also many family support groups and caregiver education programs to help you acclimate to your new role.

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