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Older adult behavioral health problems

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If you're not sure what the problem might be, review our list of symptoms to see if any of them sound like you or your loved one.

Common symptoms of adult behavioral health problems

If you aren't sure what the problem might be, review this list of typical symptoms to see if any of them seem familiar. This is not an accurate diagnostic tool, but can provide a rough indication of where you should see a behavioral health care professional.

You may have an anxiety disorder if you experience:

  • Obsessive or intrusive thoughts
  • Sense of imminent danger or catastrophe
  • Fear or panic
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Impatience
  • Ambivalence
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Sweating, especially the palms
  • Dry mouth
  • Flushing or blushing
  • Muscle tension
  • Shortness of breath
  • lightheadedness or faintness
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Shaking
  • Choking sensation
  • Frequent urination
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Feeling of "butterflies" in the stomach
  • Tingling sensations
  • Nail biting or other habitual behavior
  • Worry or dread

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Bipolar Disorder often includes:

  • Dramatic mood swings ranging from elated excitability to hopeless despondency
  • Extreme changes in energy and behavior
  • Periods of highs that include:
    • Persistent and inexplicable elevation in mood
    • Increased energy and effort toward goal-directed activities
    • Restlessness and agitation
    • Racing thoughts, jumping from one idea to another
    • Rapid speech or pressure to keep talking
    • Trouble concentrating
    • Decreased need for sleep
    • Overconfidence or inflated self-esteem
    • Poor judgment, often involving spending sprees and sexual indiscretions
  • Periods of lows that include:
    • Prolonged sad, hopeless, or empty mood
    • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
    • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
    • Decreased energy or fatigue
    • Trouble concentrating, remembering, making decisions
    • Restlessness or diminished movements, agitation
    • Sleeping too much or too little
    • Unintended weight loss or gain
    • Thoughts of death or suicide with or without suicide attempts

These same symptoms might be a sign of depression.

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Symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) are:

  • Obsessions – unwanted, repetitive and intrusive ideas, impulses or images
  • Compulsions – repetitive behaviors or mental acts usually performed to reduce the distress associated with obsessions

Common obsessions include:

  • Persistent fears that harm may come to self or a loved one
  • Unreasonable concern with being contaminated
  • Unacceptable religious, violent, or sexual thoughts
  • Excessive need to do things correctly or perfectly

Common compulsions include:

  • Excessive checking of door locks, stoves, water faucets, light switches, etc.
  • Repeatedly making lists, counting, arranging, or aligning things
  • Collecting and hoarding useless objects
  • Repeating routine actions a certain number of times until it feels just right
  • Unnecessary re-reading and re-writing
  • Mentally repeating phrases

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Symptoms of dementia come on gradually. They often begin mildly, but do progress over time.

Dementia is the progressive loss of memory and various other mental functions, including:

  • Ability to learn
  • Judgment
  • Ability to reason

This loss of mental functioning impacts on the patients social functioning and most people with dementia are eventually unable to care for themselves.

Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia. Other conditions that may be associated with dementia include:

  • Brain damage after multiple small strokes
  • Alcoholism
  • AIDS
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Huntington's disease
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease
  • Lewy body disease
  • Pick's disease
  • Normal pressure hydrocephalus
  • Medications, including:
    • Benzodiazepines
    • Tricyclic antidepressants
    • Antipsychotic medications
    • Monoamine oxidase inhibitors
    • Barbiturates
    • Cough preparations
    • Digitalis
    • Anticholinergic medications
    • Beta blockers
  • Conditions that deprive the brain of oxygen including severe heart and lung disease
  • liver disease
  • Thyroid disease
  • Severe, long-term abnormalities of blood electrolytes, including:
    • Excess calcium
    • Excess sodium
    • Low sodium
  • Encephalitis
  • Untreated syphilis
  • Toxic levels of aluminum (as can sometimes occur in dialysis patients)
  • Vitamin B12 or folate deficiences

Risk factors include:

  • Age: 85 and older
  • Family members with dementing illness
  • Down syndrome
  • Apolipoprotein E status

Depression is a mental illness characterized by feelings of profound sadness and lack of interest in enjoyable activities. It may cause a wide range of symptoms, both physical and emotional. Depression is not the same as a blue mood. It can last for weeks, months, or years. People with depression rarely recover without treatment.

Causes may be mental, physical or environmental, including:

  • Stressful life events (usually in combination with one or more of the following causes)
  • Chronic stress
  • Low self-esteem
  • Imbalances in brain chemicals and hormones
  • Lack of control over circumstances (helplessness and hopelessness)
  • Negative thought patterns and beliefs
  • Chronic pain
  • Heart disease and heart surgery

Risk factors include:

  • Chronic physical or mental illness
  • Previous episode of depression
  • Major life changes or stressful life events
  • Postpartum depression
  • little or no social support
  • Low self-esteem
  • Lack of personal control over circumstances
  • Family history of depression (parent or sibling)
  • Feelings of helplessness

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If you have experienced some kind of trauma, you might experience Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Symptoms fall into three categories:

  • Re-experiencing of the event
    • Dreams/nightmares
    • Flashbacks
    • Anxious reactions to reminders of the event
    • Hallucinations
  • Avoidance
    • Avoiding close emotional contact with family and friends
    • Avoiding people or places that are reminders of the event
    • Loss of memory about the event
    • Feelings of detachment, numbness
  • Arousal
    • Difficulty falling or staying asleep
    • Anger and irritability
    • Difficulty concentrating
    • Being easily startled

Physical symptoms may also occur such as:

  • Stomach and digestive problems
  • Chest pain
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness

People with PTSD may also abuse alcohol or drugs.

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Schizophrenia could be the problem if:

Symptoms usually start in adolescence or early adulthood. They often appear slowly and become more disturbing and bizarre over time.

Symptoms include:

  • Hallucinations –seeing or hearing things/voices that are not there
  • Delusions –strong but false personal beliefs that are not based in reality
  • Disorganized thinking
  • Disorganized speech –lack of ability to speak in a way that makes sense or carry on a conversation
  • Catatonic behavior –slow movement, repeating rhythmic gestures, pacing, walking in circles
  • Emotional flatness –flat speech, lack of facial expression, and general disinterest and withdrawal
  • Inappropriate laughter
  • Poor hygiene and self-care

Associated conditions include:

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Substance abuse (of drugs, caffeine, nicotine)
  • Self injury, including suicide

Providers who can help