Mood disorders in old age: what they are and what we can do about it.

Over the last few weeks, we have been taking a closer look at the mental health of the elderly, and how Islam views them in a high regard. Besides dementia and loneliness, there is a high prevalence of mood disturbances that increases with age. The reasons for this are plentiful, comprising:

–       Aging organ tissues which lose their mass and become frailer
–       A reduced production of certain cell types, such as T4 cells in the immune system
–       Connective cells, like in blood vessels, becoming more stiff and inflexible
–       The shapes and organization of certain mature cells altering in an abnormal way, for example in the eyes (causing poor eyesight) or in our airways (causing regular throat problems)

These mood disturbances, either on their own or when associated with other medical comorbidities, can develop into mood disorders, such as social phobia and anxiety disorders. According to one research paper, the prevalence of major depressive disorder in the elderly can be as high as 38%. According to the World Health Organization, about 15% of adults (60 and above) suffer from a mental disorder.

So why is this? Well, there are so many psychological changes, alongside the physical changes exampled above, that occur with increasing age and experience; Chronic illness and pain, loneliness, grief, bereavement and widowhood, dementia and other memory disorders or any other major life changes.

It could be that in spite of these experiences, one can still cope well and look after their mental wellbeing. However, if you spot some warning signs, then it would be a good idea to get in touch with your elderly loved one’s primary physician or care team to determine the best way to move forward and treat possible health concerns.

These warning signs can include:

–       Noticing changes in their appetite, sleeping patterns and mood beyond the normal ups and downs
–       Feeling increasingly stressed, on edge, restless or worried
–       Having pervasive thoughts of extreme anger and frustration, or hopelessness and sadness
–       Unusual thoughts and behaviours towards oneself or others, that affect social relations, work or family environments
–       Short-term or everyday-working memory loss
–       Having rapid mood swings or too-flat moods, or finding it difficult to stay positive
–       An increased over-reliance on drugs, medications or alcohol
–       Sudden, repeated bouts of intense fear or panic attacks
–       Avoidance of social situations and talking to others outside of their comfort zone

It is important to note that medication is not the only option to treat people with mental illnesses, there are very many options available today such as talking therapies, psychological therapy, CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) and attending support groups.

The best form of therapy for the elderly, by far, is spending time with them, and supporting them in any way that you can. Even just sitting and listening to their stories and their many experiences shows how much you honor and respect them. This is also suggested by Islam:

“Glorifying Allah (SWT) involves showing honor to a grey-haired Muslim (elderly) and to one who can expound the Quran”
[Abu Dawud]

 

“Among the most dutiful of deeds is that a man nurture relations with the people his father was friends with”
[Sahih Muslim]

The verses of the Quran have stated clearly that not only will we be judged on our individual deeds, but also on our deeds as part of a nation/community on this earth:

“And you will see every nation kneeling (from fear). Each nation will be called to its record and told, ‘Today you will be recompensed for what you used to do’.”
[45:28]

 So, we owe it to ourselves and to the elderly amongst us, to remember them, support them and where we cannot do much then at-least make Dua (supplication) for them from a sincere heart. There are quite a few ways that we can have fun, quality time with our elderly – so stay tuned for our next article coming out next tuesday!

Have you or an elderly person you know experienced mood disorders? Please feel free to share your story with us!

Sarah Gulamhusein

Sarah Gulamhusein

Sarah is a Master’s graduate in Psychology, having completed an undergraduate degree in Medical Biochemistry. She is passionate about mental health and has attained a good knowledge of mental illnesses from both a scientific and psychological perspective. From her early years, she has been a keen writer and has consistently used her words to raise awareness and battle the stigma of mental health in society, highlight the challenges faced by Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities within the UK – especially for an organisation called 1000women. She hopes to use her skills and motivation to inspire others, promote co-existence and help others.

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