Personality Disorders

As the American population ages, the need for mental and behavioral care increases and awareness of psychological needs is as important as attention to physical changes.

Psychological needs often reflect personality issues in the form of a disorder.  According to the Mayo Clinic, a personality disorder is defined “as a type mental disorder in which you have a rigid and unhealthy pattern of thinking, functioning and behaving.”  Additionally, individuals who struggle with personality disorders tend to struggle with their interpersonal relationships.

Personality disorders manifest themselves in multiple ways, and the most familiar disorder is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.  Unfortunately, many individuals who suffer from obsessive-compulsive traits will see an increase in this behavior pattern as they age.  The increase is not necessarily a result of a change in core personality, but actually how one is able to adapt to the change in ability to care for oneself.  Usually, negative behavior patterns become more significant because of a life change, whether in the loss of a spouse or a change in living environment.  Essentially, older individuals tend to become much less adaptable to new or changing situations.  Routine becomes a safety feature in the lives of older people.

Beyond familiar behavior disorders, more specific personality disorders, as a whole, tend to occur in only about ten percent of the population.  Personality disorders usually derive from symptoms of depression that become significantly worse as the individual ages.  Therefore, those who struggle with anxiety regularly tend to suffer from higher levels of depression which can lead to an increase of specific types of personality disorders, including avoidant and dependent issues.  In addition to these types of problems, many older adults express hypochondria (an abnormal anxiety about one’s health), in conjunction with depression, and specifically in regards to personal hygiene.  Finally, some personality disorders will show an increase in alcohol abuse in older individuals.

To assist older individuals who have diagnosed personality disorders, focus on medication and its management is essential to their overall health. The goal of medication is to provide an effective means to control agitation and any psychotic symptoms.  As with any medication, it is imperative to begin with small dosages and increase slowly to determine potency.  In addition to medication, psychotherapy is found to be an excellent form of treatment and beneficial to older individuals.  Often, a sense of someone who genuinely cares is enough to impact a positive change.




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