The Facts about Mental Illness in the Elderly


The most common mental health issue among the elderly is severe cognitive impairment or dementia, particularly caused by Alzheimer’s disease (National Alliance on Mental Illness).

An estimated 5 million adults 65 and older currently have Alzheimer’s disease—about 11 percent of seniors, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Other types of dementia bring the numbers even higher.

The symptoms of dementia often start off very mild and slowly worsen over time. Symptoms can include:

  • Forgetting all sorts of things
  • Confusion
  • Trouble with language (for example, not being able to find the right words for things)
  • Trouble concentrating and reasoning
  • Problems with tasks such as paying bills or balancing a checkbook
  • Getting lost in familiar places

As dementia gets worse, it can:

  • Cause anger or aggression
  • Make people see things that aren’t there or believe things that aren’t true
  • Impair people’s ability to eat, bathe, dress, or do other everyday tasks
  • Cause people to lose bladder and bowel control


Depression and mood disorders are also fairly widespread among older adults; they often go undiagnosed and untreated. Almost one in 8 adults (12.6%) identified symptoms that met the criteria for a mood disorder at some point during their lifetime, including 11.3% for depression says Public Health Canada.  In a 2006 survey, 5% of seniors 65 and older reported having current depression, and about 10.5% reported a diagnosis of depression at some point in their lives (CDC).


Often going along with depression in many individuals, anxiety is also one of the more prevalent mental health problems among the elderly.  Anxiety disorders encompass a range of issues, from obsessive-compulsive disorder (including hoarding syndrome) to phobias to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). About 7.6% of those over 65 have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives, reports the CDC.

It is important that you seek help from a healthcare professional if you feel you are developing symptoms of anxiety that are causing impairment of your lifestyle. Of people with mood and/or anxiety disorders, 27% reported that their disorder(s) have affected their life “quite a bit” or “extremely” in the past 12 months. The degree to which their disorder(s) limited their activities varied by type: activities such as recreation, leisure or hobbies were the most limited, followed by social activities with family and friends say the public health service of Canada.