Understanding Late-Life Bipolar Disorder

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Bipolar disorder is a condition that is recognized among the adult population, however many fail to understand how this disorder can affect seniors and elderly individuals. Bipolar disorder in later life is a complex neuropsychiatric syndrome which causes seniors to experience manic depressive episodes for the first time – meaning seniors with no history of mental illness suddenly develop symptoms of bipolar disorder. As with early onset, symptoms include frequent changes in mood accompanied by impulsive and socially inappropriate actions.

As a family member providing part-time or around the clock home care in Phoenix, one of the easiest ways to identify bipolar disorder is by looking for unexpected bursts of anger or sadness. Your aging loved one will act out of character for short periods of time, and depending on the severity and actual diagnosis, may experience hallucinations and/or delusions. If you notice drastic changes in behavior that stem from no apparent cause, it is imperative that you seek proper treatment for your aging loved one and acquire an appropriate network of support.

Bipolar I or II can be diagnosed after having a thorough evaluation by a psychologist. This will most likely include an extensive interview and cognitive assessment to rule out other disorders such as brain tumors, dementia or Alzheimer’s. Along with taking a report of the patient’s physical and mental health history, the clinician will assess behavior, emotional responses, sensorimotor functions and cognitive abilities. Often times, an MRI will also be ordered.

Treatment for the disorder in elderly patients is similar to that of the treatment in younger populations. However, there are some additional challenges and concerns with older adults. For instance, seniors may be living with a physical condition that prevents the prescription of certain medications. While there are fortunately several treatments available, it is important to speak with your loved one’s psychiatrist and collaborate with the primary physician to determine the best, most effective and safe care regimen.

It may also be helpful for the senior to participate in regular therapy. Both group and individual programs may be beneficial, allowing seniors to share their personal story and receive valuable insight into what to expect. Therapy can be instrumental in showing the senior that they are not alone in this situation. Family caregivers can also benefit from going to support groups. It’s a way to gain more information about the disease and connect with other caregivers who can relate to similar challenges.

For seniors experiencing bipolar disorder, it may also be beneficial to have an in-home caregiver. Whether care is only scheduled a few days a week or a few hours a day, having a trained and compassionate individual in the home to help with daily tasks, personal care, transportation and medical reminders can ensure safety for the senior, while offering their families peace of mind.

To learn more about in-home care for seniors in Phoenix, contact Home Care Assistance and schedule a complimentary, no-obligation consultation with one of our friendly and professional Care Managers.