For many people growing older is fraught with anxiety. They are faced with changes that may be overwhelming. These changes occur with life transitions from work to retirement which then affects their identity and role in life. They experience grief as they are faced with the death of their friends and loved ones. Health issues become apparent and the management of these become an ongoing stressor. Another common difficulty is needing to adapt to cope with chronic illnesses.
Forgetfulness or memory loss is also another concerning factor with ageing. Some people may find that they have difficulty remembering important information, and managing their own affairs becomes a challenge. Although memory lapses are a normal part of ageing, when people become aware of their own forgetfulness this can impact upon their mood. The elderly often become concerned about losing their independence and can consequently develop a sense of hopelessness about the future. Families of elderly people may also struggle to understand what is normal for elderly people to experience and how they can adequately care for their loved ones.
Clinical Psychologists experienced in psychological intervention for the elderly are able to consider the factors faced by the elderly and provide adequate intervention. A comprehensive clinical assessment provides the opportunity to identify symptoms of anxiety, depression, and early signs of dementia.
Symptoms of anxiety may present in the elderly as excessive worrying, difficulty sleeping, and difficulties relaxing and concentrating. Elderly people may also become hypervigilant about their physical symptoms which can become quite debilitating. Consequently, they may become concerned about leaving their home in case adversity occurs and they may even experience symptoms of panic at times which can be overwhelming. These symptoms may have developed from a traumatic experience, medication changes, or chronic health issues, such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, Heart Disease or Heart Attacks, Cancer or life threatening experiences, Chronic Pain, Migraines, or Arthritic changes.
Symptoms of depression in the elderly may present as social withdrawal, lack of motivation to engage in activities, inability to function at their normal level on a daily basis, weight loss or gain, changes in sleep patterns, lethargy, and agitation. They may feel hopeless about the future and even feel as if they have lived their lives and that there is no point going on. Elderly people may also appear apathetic, confused at times and even have difficulty retrieving words.
Types of Treatment
Research has shown that the most effective approach to psychological intervention for the elderly with symptoms of anxiety and depression is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). This approach helps to reduce the intensity of symptoms via education, relaxation strategies, developing realistic interpretations of events and more helpful thinking styles, behavioural activation, and exposure therapy. Family members may also be included to reinforce some of these strategies.
Signs of memory loss or early dementia in the elderly include difficulties performing familiar tasks, problems with expressing themselves, disorientation or getting lost in familiar locations, misplacing items, reduced judgement especially when driving, and also changes in mood. A clinical psychological assessment provides the opportunity to consider whether symptoms of depression are present as well as providing a screening of their cognitive functioning with the Addenbrooke’s Cognitive Examination Tool. It is then possible to liaise with their GP to consider referral to a Specialist Medical Practitioner in Aged Care for clarification of a diagnosis.
If you would like to find out more about our psychological treatment for the elderly, or to book an appointment with one of our clinical psychologists who provides treatment for this age-group, please email or call the clinic on 02 9438 2511.