Author: Sam Bowman
Getting diagnosed with bipolar disorder as an older adult can be challenging. Stigmas and misconceptions about the condition may be discouraging and lead to feelings of embarrassment or unease.
However, bipolar disorder affects millions of older adults and a diagnosis is nothing to be ashamed of. A diagnosis will help you get the support you need and is a sign that you are taking your mental health seriously.
Fortunately, improved awareness means that getting diagnosed is easier today than it used to be. Many physicians understand the unique challenges that you face as an older adult with bipolar disorder and can help you connect with specialists in the field.
Getting diagnosed can feel like an insurmountable challenge — particularly as an older adult. Research surrounding bipolar disorder in older adults is sparse but affirms the importance of getting diagnosed. Once diagnosed, you can start working with physicians and psychiatrists who understand the condition and are able to help you.
Get the ball rolling by talking to your primary care physician. While they may not specialize in bipolar disorder, they will know how to refer you to an appropriate mental health professional. A mental health professional will then be able to assess you for bipolar.
Try not to overthink your assessment but be persistent about seeing a specialist in the field. Even if you aren’t diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a specialist may be able to spot other conditions like depression or generalized anxiety.
Getting a diagnosis will likely come as a relief, but it doesn’t mean you’re “fixed”. This is something that blogger Charlie, who has ADHD, reflects on. Charlie writes that her bipolar diagnosis “did not automatically render me well,” but that it helped her lighten the load. Over time, you’ll learn how to improve your mental health and accept the diagnosis.
Improving Your Mental Health
Most forms of treatment for bipolar disorder involve some form of medication. However, you will still need to make behavioral changes to improve your overall health and well-being. Improve your mental health in your golden years by:
● Combatting isolation and making new connections with your community.
● Stay active and work with your physician to create an exercise plan that works for you.
● Get enough high-quality sleep. Typically, older adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night.
● Eat a balanced diet comprised of vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats.
These steps won’t “cure” you of your bipolar symptoms, but they can help you lead a healthier, more fulfilling life. You don’t build a healthier life alone, either. Building a support network can help you overcome loneliness and give you the motivation you need to exercise more frequently and eat healthier foods.
Building Your Support Network
Everyone needs a support network to overcome life’s challenges. However, as an older adult with bipolar disorder, you may find it tricky to build new bonds and expand your connection with the community.
Start building your network by getting involved with recreational activities for older adults. Consider joining group exercise classes like water aerobics or yoga.; volunteer at your local food bank or animal shelter; sign up for art classes for adults at a local community center. Recreational activities are a great way to build your network and meet like-minded people.
You should never feel pressured into sharing your diagnosis but may find it helpful to do so. Folks like Cassandra Stout reflect that sharing her diagnosis helped her understand that “bipolar disorder is just a part of my life–a big part, to be sure, but it’s not everything”. When you feel comfortable, consider telling those close to you about your diagnosis and some of the ways it may impact how you move through the world.
Seeking a diagnosis if you suspect you have bipolar disorder can be an important step toward improving your mental and physical health. A diagnosis can help you receive the treatment you deserve and improve your day-to-day quality of life. Once diagnosed, you can start to build a supportive network of friends and peers who understand the condition and help build your confidence and self-efficacy.