Bipolar Disorder In Seniors - Cause, Symptoms, And Treatment
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Bipolar Disorder In Seniors – Causes, Symptoms, And Treatment

March 12, 2019 | Health | By Amanda Johnson

Bipolar disorder can strike at any age. The research on Bipolar disorder has shown that among all the new cases reported annually 10% belong to seniors. Further studies point out that if it remains untreated they can become worse with growing age. If you or any senior member of your family shows signs of bipolar disorder, then continue reading and help the patient.


Bipolar disorders usually develop when the person is a teenager or in his / her youth, which gets worse with age. While in some the symptoms are visible from the beginning, for others symptoms appears in their senior years. The exact reasons for bipolar disorder are still hazy. Experts studying bipolar disorders believe that this is due to a person’s genes and traumatic experiences through their lives. Sometimes there are reports of the brain getting affected due to an imbalance within neurotransmitters and hormones in the body.

Some other causes include:

  • Occurrence of short blockages which reduces the blood flow into the brain
  • Seniors often experience dementia before bipolar disorder sets in
  • White matter Hyper-intensities are small lesions that can be seen in the brain before bipolar occurs in seniors
  • Benson’s syndrome wherein the back portion of the brain shrinks is quite common as well


Seniors with bipolar disorder are found to demonstrate signs of mania in the form of “agitation and irritability” as pointed out by Michael First, a professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University. When bipolar strikes in older age the effects are more severe and is accompanied with extreme bouts of depression. Then suddenly it is replaced with irritability and anger.

Seniors over the age of 50 will start showing these signs if they are suffering from bipolar disorder:

  • Extreme distraction leading to forgetfulness
  • Confusion about their surroundings
  • Wanting to stay hyperactive all the time and hence over working themselves
  • They start to lose their memory and find it difficult to remember incidents from past
  • Sense of perception (for example, how far is an object, how deep is the pool) also gets affected
  • They find it difficult to solve challenges and issues that they face and often need help from family and relatives to make sense of things

Diagnosis And Treatment

Medical Examination

When a senior member of your family has a bipolar disorder then urgently schedule a medical examination for him. This is to safeguard him from other complications which come with similar symptoms. These include Alzheimer’s, dementia, or even a tumor in the brain. A medical examination is needed because some antidepressants also produce symptoms similar to bipolar. In the medical check-up one should cover past illnesses, family history of bipolar, and medicines that are being taken.

Psychiatric Treatment

If a check-up reveals that the person is likely to be suffering from bipolar then he should be taken to an experienced professional dealing with mental health and treatment of bipolar in aging adults. In this regard one can get a lot of help by visiting the American Association of Geriatric Psychiatry website. Talk therapy, as it is called, or psychotherapy, will help the patient to cope with his emotions better and also solve his behavioural issues. This involves not only talking, but the patient also has to write out his thoughts, track his mood swings, take part in social activities that cause nervousness, and then discuss these with a doctor.

Giving The Right Medicine

One needs to be very careful when prescribing medicines to seniors. This is because their physical abilities will allow them to manage some and not others. The speed at which the medicines metabolize are also slower and different than those who are younger. Hence the dosage given to seniors are usually lower. Also seniors are likely to be taking medicines for other ailments and that should be considered before recommending medicines for bipolar.

Support Groups For Caregivers

Those taking care of a bipolar patient should associate themselves with support groups as this will help them share their ideas, thoughts, gain information, and also find help. Psychiatrists often know of such support groups. You can also contact the  Depression and Bipolar Alliance and the National Alliance for Mental Illness to help you find groups to get linked with.

Bipolar in seniors can lead to malnutrition, memory loss, hyper-vigilance which makes him think that all aches will lead to death, amongst others. Hence if you feel that bipolar is setting in you or a senior in the family then do make sure to start with treatment soon.

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