Disorders of Aging and Cognition Chapter 15 Fundamentals of Abnormal Psychology, 4e

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Disorders of Aging and Cognition Chapter 15

Fundamentals of Abnormal Psychology, 4e

Ronald J. Comer

PowerPoint Outline created by

Karen Clay Rhines, Ph.D., Seton Hall University

Disorders of Aging and Cognition

  1. Dementia – deterioration of one’s memory and related cognitive faculties – is currently the most publicized and feared psychological problem among the elderly

  2. It is, however, hardly the only one

  3. A variety of psychological disorders are tied closely to later life

  4. As with childhood disorders, some of the disorders of old age are caused primarily by pressures that are particularly likely to appear at that time of life, others by unique traumatic experiences, and still others – like dementia – by biological abnormalities

Old Age and Stress

  1. Old age is usually defined in our society as the years past age 65

  2. There are more than 35 million “old” people in the U.S.

  3. Older women outnumber older men by 3 to 2

  4. Like childhood, old age brings special pressures, unique upsets, and major biological changes

Old Age and Stress

  1. The stresses of elderly people need not result in psychological disorders; however, studies indicate that as many as 50% of elderly people would benefit from mental health services

  2. Fewer than 20% actually receive them

  3. Geropsychology is the field of psychology dedicated to the mental health of elderly people

Old Age and Stress

  1. The psychological problems of elderly people may be divided into two groups:

  2. Disorders that are found in people of all ages but are connected to the process of aging

  3. Depressive, anxiety, and substance-related disorders

  4. Disorders of cognition

  5. Delirium, dementia

Depression in Later Life

  1. Depression is one of the most common mental health problems of older adults

  2. The features of depression are the same for elderly people as for younger people

  3. As many as 20% of people experience this disorder at some point during old age

  4. The rate is highest in older women

  5. Several studies suggest that depression among older people raises their chances of developing significant medical problems

Depression in Later Life

  1. Elderly people are more likely to commit suicide than younger ones, and often their suicides are related to depression

Depression in Later Life

  1. Like younger adults, older people who are depressed may be helped by cognitive therapy, interpersonal therapy, antidepressant medications, or a combination of these approaches

  2. More than half of older patients with depression improve with these treatments

  3. It is sometimes difficult for elderly people to use antidepressant drugs effectively and safely because the body’s metabolism works differently in later life

Anxiety Disorders in Later Life

  1. Anxiety is also common among the elderly

  2. At any given time, around 6% of elderly men and 11% of elderly women in the U.S. experience at least one of the anxiety disorders

  3. GAD is particularly common, experienced by up to 7% of all elderly people

  4. Anxiety in the elderly may be underreported

Anxiety Disorders in Later Life

  1. There are many things about aging that may heighten anxiety levels, including declining health

  2. Researchers have not, however, systematically tied anxiety disorders among the elderly to specific events or losses

  3. Older adults with anxiety disorders are often treated with psychotherapy of various kinds, particularly cognitive therapies

  4. Many also receive antianxiety medications

  5. Again, all such drugs must be used cautiously with older people

Substance Abuse in Later Life

  1. Although alcohol abuse and other forms of substance abuse are significant problems for many older people, the prevalence of such patterns actually appears to decline after age 60

  2. Accurate data about the rate of substance abuse among older adults is difficult to obtain because many elderly people do not suspect or admit they have such a problem

Substance Abuse in Later Life

  1. Surveys find that 4 to 6% of older people, particularly men, display alcohol-related disorders in a given year

  2. Researchers often distinguish between older problem drinkers who have experienced significant alcohol-related problems for many years and those who do not start the pattern until their 50s and 60s

Substance Abuse in Later Life

  1. Alcohol abuse and dependence in elderly people are treated much as in younger adults

  2. Approaches include detoxification, Antabuse, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), and cognitive-behavioral therapy

Substance Abuse in Later Life

  1. A leading kind of substance abuse in the elderly is the misuse of prescription drugs

  2. Most often it is unintentional

Psychotic Disorders in Later Life

  1. Elderly people have a higher rate of psychotic symptoms than younger people

  2. Among aged people, these symptoms are usually due to underlying medical conditions such as delirium and dementia

  3. However, some elderly people suffer from schizophrenia or delusional disorder

Psychotic Disorders in Later Life

  1. Schizophrenia is less common in older people than in younger ones

  2. Many people with schizophrenia find that their symptoms lessen in later life

  3. It is uncommon for new cases of schizophrenia to emerge in later life

Psychotic Disorders in Later Life

  1. Another kind of psychotic disorder found among the elderly is delusional disorder, in which individuals develop beliefs that are false but not bizarre

  2. This disorder is rare in most age groups, but its prevalence appears to increase in the elderly population

  3. Some clinicians suggest that the rise is related to the deficiencies in hearing, social isolation, greater stress, or heightened poverty experienced by many elderly people

Disorders of Cognition

  1. Cognitive “mishaps” (e.g., leaving without keys, forgetting someone’s name) are a common and quite normal feature of stress or of aging

  2. As people move through middle age, these memory difficulties and lapses of attention increase, and they may occur with regularity by age 60 or 70

  3. Sometimes, however, people experience memory and other cognitive changes that are far more extensive and problematic

Disorders of Cognition

  1. While problems in memory and related cognitive processes can occur without organic causes (in the form of dissociative disorders), more often, cognitive problems have organic roots, particularly when they appear in later life

  2. The leading cognitive disorders among elderly people are delirium and dementia


  1. Delirium is a clouding of consciousness

  2. As the person’s awareness of the environment becomes less clear, he or she has great difficulty concentrating, focusing attention, and thinking sequentially

  3. This leads to misinterpretations, illusions, and, on occasion, hallucinations


  1. This state of massive confusion typically occurs over a short period of time, usually hours or days

  2. Delirium apparently affects more than 2 million people in the U.S. each year

  3. It may occur in any age group, including children, but it is most common in elderly people

  4. Fever, metabolic disorders, infections, poor nutrition, head injuries, certain brain diseases, stress (including the trauma of surgery), and certain substances may all cause delirium


  1. People with dementia experience significant memory losses along with losses in other cognitive functions such as abstract thinking or language

  2. People with dementia may also experience changes in personality and behavior

  3. At any given time, around 3% of the world’s adult population suffers from dementia


  1. The experience of dementia is closely related to age

  2. Like delirium, some forms of dementia result from nutritional, metabolic, or other problems that can be corrected

  3. Most forms, however, are caused by brain diseases or injuries, such as Alzheimer’s disease or stroke, which are currently difficult or impossible to correct

Alzheimer’s Disease

  1. This disease, identified in 1907, is the most common form of dementia, accounting for at least 50% of the cases

  2. This gradually progressive disease sometimes appears in middle age, but most often occurs after the age of 65

  3. Its prevalence increases markedly among people in their late 70s and early 80s

Alzheimer’s Disease

  1. The disease may last for as many as 20 years

  2. It usually begins with mild memory problems, lapses of attention, and difficulties in language and communication

Alzheimer’s Disease

  1. As symptoms worsen, the person has trouble completing complicated tasks and remembering important appointments

  2. Eventually sufferers also have difficulty with simple tasks, distant memories are forgotten, and changes in personality often become very noticeable

Alzheimer’s Disease

  1. As the symptoms of dementia intensify, people show less and less awareness of their limitations

  2. Eventually they become fully dependent on other people

  3. The late phase of the disorder can last from 2 to 5 years

  4. Alzheimer’s victims usually remain in good health until the later stages of the disease

Alzheimer’s Disease

  1. In most cases, Alzheimer’s can be diagnosed with certainty only after death, when structural changes in the brain can be identified in autopsy

  2. Neurofibrillary tangles are twisted protein fibers found within the cells of the hippocampus

  3. These occur in all people as they age, but people with Alzheimer’s disease form an extraordinary number of them

  4. Senile plaques are sphere-shaped deposits of a small molecule that form in the spaces between cells in the hippocampus, cerebral cortex, and certain other brain regions

Alzheimer’s Disease

  1. Research has suggested several possible causes for the development of the disease, including genetic factors and abnormalities in brain structure and brain chemistry

What Are the Genetic Causes of Alzheimer’s Disease?

  1. It appears that Alzheimer’s disease often has a genetic basis

  2. Studies have found that mutations in particular genes increase the likelihood of plaque and tangle formations and, in turn, of Alzheimer’s disease

  3. Genetic studies have also linked certain kinds of the disease to defects on specific chromosomes

What Are the Structural and Biochemical Causes of Alzheimer’s Disease?

  1. Researchers have identified a number of biological factors related to the brain abnormalities seen in Alzheimer’s disease

  2. One line of research suggests that some of the proteins involved in memory formation may take an abnormal form and essentially run amok in people with Alzheimer’s disease

  3. Another line of research points to abnormal activity by the neurotransmitters and related chemicals involved in the production of the memory proteins

What Are the Structural and Biochemical Causes of Alzheimer’s Disease?

  1. A third explanation holds that certain substances found in nature, including zinc, may produce brain toxicity

  2. A fourth explanation is the autoimmune theory:

  3. Changes in aging brain cells may trigger an autoimmune response, leading to the disease

What Are the Structural and Biochemical Causes of Alzheimer’s Disease?

  1. A final explanation is a viral theory

  2. Because Alzheimer’s disease resembles Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease (a form of dementia caused by a virus), some researchers propose that a similar virus may cause Alzheimer’s disease

  3. To date, no such virus has been isolated from the brains of Alzheimer’s victims

Other Forms of Dementia

  1. A number of other disorders may also lead to dementia, including:

  2. Vascular dementia (multi-infarct dementia)

  3. May follow a cerebrovascular accident, or stroke, during which blood flow to specific areas of the brain was cut off, with resultant damage

  4. This dementia is progressive but its symptoms begin abruptly, rather than gradually

  5. Cognitive functioning may continue to be normal in the areas of the brain not affected by the stroke

Other Forms of Dementia

  1. A number of other disorders may also lead to dementia, including:

  2. Pick’s disease – a rare disorder that affects the frontal and temporal lobes and is clinically similar to Alzheimer’s disease

  3. Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease – caused by a slow-acting virus, this disease has symptoms that include sporadic movements

Other Forms of Dementia

  1. A number of other disorders may also lead to dementia, including:

  2. Huntington’s disease – an inherited progressive disease in which memory problems worsen over time, along with personality changes and mood difficulties

  3. Parkinson’s disease – a slowly progressive neurological disorder marked by tremors, rigidity, and unsteadiness

  4. This disease causes dementia in 20 to 60% of cases

Other Forms of Dementia

  1. A number of other disorders may also lead to dementia, including:

  2. Viral and bacterial infectious disorders such as HIV and AIDS, meningitis, and advanced syphilis

  3. Brain seizure disorder

  4. Drug abuse

  5. Toxins such as mercury, lead, or carbon monoxide

What Treatments Are Available for Dementia?

  1. Treating dementia is frustrating and difficult

  2. No single approach is effective in all cases

  3. Treatment tends to offer modest help

  4. Growing research on the causes of diseases that produce dementia has fostered hope that dementia may be treated more effectively or even prevented in years to come

What Treatments Are Available for Dementia?

  1. Currently, the first step in treatment is to identify, with as much certainty as possible, the precise type and nature of the individual’s disease

What Treatments Are Available for Dementia?

  1. A common approach to treatment is the use of drugs that affect the neurotransmitters known to play an important role in memory

  2. Three such drugs prevent the breakdown of acetylcholine, the NT in low supply among people with Alzheimer’s disease

  3. Although the benefits of the drugs are limited and the risk of harmful side effects is sometimes high, the drugs have been approved by the FDA

What Treatments Are Available for Dementia?

  1. In addition to drugs taken after the start of symptoms, a number of studies also seem to suggest that certain substances (e.g., estrogen, ibuprofen) may actually help prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease

  2. Behavioral interventions have been tried with modest success

What Treatments Are Available for Dementia?

  1. Caregiving can take a heavy toll on the close relatives of people with dementia

  2. One of the most frequent reasons for the institutionalization of Alzheimer’s victims is that overwhelmed caregivers can no longer cope with the difficulties of keeping them at home

  3. In recent years, sociocultural approaches have begun to play an important role in treatment

  4. A number of day care and assisted-living facilities have been opened to provide care for those with dementia

Issues Affecting the Mental Health of the Elderly

  1. As the study and treatment of elderly people have progressed, three issues have raised concern among clinicians:

  2. Discrimination due to race and ethnicity

  3. The inadequacies of long-term care

  4. The need for a health-maintenance approach to medical care in an aging world

Issues Affecting the Mental Health of the Elderly

  1. Discrimination due to race and ethnicity has long been a problem in the U.S., particularly for those who are old

  2. To be both old and a member of a minority group is to be considered in “double jeopardy” by many observers

  3. Older women in minority groups are considered in “triple jeopardy”

  4. Due to language barriers and cultural issues, it is common for elderly members of ethnic minority groups to rely solely on family members or friends for remedies and health care

Issues Affecting the Mental Health of the Elderly

  1. Many older people require long-term care

  2. “Long-term care” may refer variously to the services offered in a partially supervised apartment, in a senior housing complex, or in a nursing home

  3. The quality of care at such residences varies widely

  4. Many worry about the costs of long-term care

  5. Worry over these issues can greatly harm the mental health of older adults, perhaps leading to depression and anxiety as well as family conflict

Issues Affecting the Mental Health of the Elderly

  1. Medical scientists suggest that the current generation of young adults should take a health-maintenance, or wellness, approach to their own aging process

  2. There is a growing belief that older adults will adapt more readily to changes and negative events if their physical and psychological health is good

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