Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that is characterized by significant changes in a person’s mood, energy, and focus.
While the average age of onset for bipolar disorder is 25, some people develop the condition much later in life.
While the symptoms of bipolar disorder can vary with age, the frequency, severity, and overall impact of the disorder is generally different in older people compared to younger people.
In this article, we’ll look at how bipolar disorder changes with age, including how advancing age can affect symptoms, severity, and overall mental health.
In people living with bipolar disorder, age can affect:
- how the symptoms appear
- how severe are the symptoms
- how the disorder affects the brain
Although many people with bipolar disorder are diagnosed at an early age, approximately
So how does bipolar disorder show up in older people compared to younger people, and how do symptoms change with age?
Mood changes in bipolar disorder result in distinct episodes called:
- Mania: a significantly elevated or “high” mood
- Hypomania: an elevated state that is not as extreme as mania
- Depression: a “low” mood
Changes in the frequency and severity of episodes are among the most obvious changes in bipolar disorder in old age.
- more frequent episodes
- more depressive episodes and less time spent in manic or hypomanic states
- less severe manic symptoms and fewer psychotic features with mania
- new symptoms, such as irritability and poor cognition
- lower suicide risk, although this may be due to survival bias
- resistance to treatment options, such as certain medications
Because research on bipolar disorder in older adults is still lacking, it is difficult to determine exactly how these changes may affect different types of bipolar disorder.
While bipolar disorder appears to negatively affect executive function and verbal memory in all age groups, older people are also more likely to be slower to process information. For this reason, older people with bipolar disorder may exhibit reduced neurocognitive ability, which can lead to a much lower quality of life.
Some of these changes may be due to the way bipolar disorder affects brain tissue. Many of these neurological changes can also be accentuated by a variety of factors, including:
- natural changes of aging
- other medical conditions
- repeated mood swings
- substance use or misuse
End-stage bipolar disorder
Although there is no official classification for end-stage bipolar disorder, mild structural changes in the brain that lead to cognitive dysfunction can significantly reduce a person’s quality of life, especially towards the end. of life.
So while many older adults already experience changes in mood, cognition, and memory as part of the natural aging process, people with bipolar disorder may experience more intense changes.
Without the right treatment, daily living can be more difficult and overall quality of life can be lower towards the end of life.
If you’ve been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, it’s important to seek treatment for the condition, as it can get progressively worse if left untreated.
Although treatment varies from person to person, doctors usually treat bipolar disorder with medication and psychotherapy.
- Medications are often the first-line treatment option for people with bipolar disorder. Medications help reduce the chronic (long-term) symptoms of the disease. Common medication options for bipolar disorder include:
- Psychotherapy is often used along with medications to help reduce the behavioral symptoms of bipolar disorder. Useful approaches include:
As we age, it becomes much more difficult for our bodies to metabolize certain drugs. In
For example, a
If medications don’t help, doctors may suggest electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). During ECT, electrical currents are briefly sent to your brain to stimulate it. It is usually a last resort to help treat depressive symptoms, but
Research from 2015 suggests older people with bipolar disorder tend to die
With the right combination of medication, therapy, and lifestyle changes, people with bipolar disorder may be able to lessen these changes and significantly improve their overall quality of life.
If you’ve been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, it’s important to contact a doctor to discuss a treatment plan and find the options that are right for you.