Bipolar disorder has long been in the mainstream news as being a mental illness inherent in age ranges still considered young. In fact, most high-profile cases we’ve seen over the years are in those well below the age of 40 and all too often in teenagers. But did you know that bipolar disorder can also happen in the elderly?
Yes, it’s another mental condition in our aging parents and grandparents that we have to worry about manifesting alongside dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease. Is it possible, though, to distinguish a late bipolar disorder condition from other diseases that cause mental decline? You have to carefully understand some of the symptoms in order to determine if it’s real or something resembling the condition. Treatment, also, can potentially be more complicated during a later stage in life.
The Surprising Statistics on Bipolar Disorders in Seniors
According to Everyday Health, 10% of all bipolar cases finally manifest after the age of 50. That’s an astounding statistic that most of us wouldn’t have guessed within the modern perspective of the disorder. In some cases, that senior who finally shows signs of bipolar disorder likely had it their whole life and only had minor symptoms in their younger years.
This shows how much mental illness can frequently be misunderstood and sometimes thought to be some other problem. When it goes untreated for decades, it’s going to be even more difficult to scope it out based on the stigma of mental decline in seniors. You can see why when you see the symptoms of bipolar disorder in someone well over 50.
Many seniors with bipolar disorder may not have the feelings of elation that younger people experience. Instead, it could be feelings of irritable depression that may immediately be assumed by family to be signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease. And because memory problems can also occur (as well as problems with perception or judgement), the lines between what kind of mental decline it is are going to be extremely blurred.
The danger, of course, is that some children in the family will assume it’s a natural part of aging and not even bother seeking treatment for their parent. Just because mental decline is common in the elderly, it still shouldn’t be considered normal. Anyone with a healthy brain won’t exhibit those symptoms and should be taken to the doctor as soon as possible.
Treatment, though, could be complicated based squarely on the timing of living in an era when other pharmaceuticals could conflict.
The Complexities of Treatment
Once a senior is officially diagnosed as having a bipolar condition, medications are going to be necessary. Medscape once pointed out, however, that other drugs being taken for other conditions can potentially conflict with medications for a mental condition. Most younger people with bipolar disorder aren’t on blood pressure, heart or diuretic drugs like seniors are, and fears are there of bipolar drugs not being as effective due the pharmacological overlap.
In the above Medscape piece, it’s also noted that the standard drug of choice to treat bipolar disorder (Lithium) could cause renal damage in the elderly. Similarly, other standard drugs for the condition could create further health issues. With the proper guidance and balance, though, Lithium is still being used to treat seniors with bipolar issues.
Treatment of depressive symptoms are sometimes going to require an antidepressant, even though they can frequently conflict with the treatment medications. They usually have to be combined with another drug to stabilize mood so any chances of mania are removed.
The important thing is to take your aging parent or grandparent to see a doctor immediately if there’s any signs of mania, long-lasting depression, or a combination of the two throughout one day. Remember that diagnosis may take time because there’s no quick method available. Only ruling out other usual suspects of aging will determine that it’s long undiagnosed mental illness.
With growing statistics of the above, you can see why mental illness continues to fall behind in being understood completely at all levels.