If you’re in your retirement years and have noticed that your moods are fluctuating much more than they used to, you’re not alone. Mood swings in elderly women are very common, and many family members notice their older female relatives going through intense moments of anxiety, sadness, anger, and excitement. Elderly women often notice these symptoms in themselves, too, but they may feel like these mood swings are too strong to control.
Trying to understand and manage drastic mood changes is overwhelming, but figuring out the root cause can help.
Here Are Five of the Most Common Causes of Mood Swings in Elderly Women
1. Hormonal Changes
Your hormone levels change across your lifespan, and elderly women experience significant fluctuations. Hormones play a role in so many important functions in the body, and they can affect mood, energy, sleep, motivation, and other factors.
The most common hormonal issue elderly women face is low estrogen. Levels of estrogen drastically decline after menopause, but estrogen is linked to mood. Fortunately, hormonal imbalances are fairly easy to diagnose with a blood test. They may be treatable with hormone replacement therapy, too. However, if you or your loved one has a family history of breast or uterine cancer, hormone replacement therapy might not be recommended.
2. Grief and Loss
As we get older, so do our friends and family members. Loss of loved ones tends to happen more frequently with age, and grief can have a severe effect on your mental health.
If you or your relative has recently lost a spouse, sibling, close friend, or other loved one, their mood swings may happen because they’re trying to adjust to life without this person. The five stages of grief don’t often happen in perfect order. One day, you might feel helpless or hopeless. The next, you may feel a welcome sense of peace. Then, feelings of anger or frustration may hit you out of nowhere.
Grief can sometimes be more difficult for elderly women to deal with because older adults are more likely to be socially isolated. Without a strong support network, it can be tough to process the loss and move forward with life.
Changes in mood in the weeks or months following a loss should be expected. Grieving takes time, and you should never rush someone through the process. However, if you’re concerned that a loved one’s mood fluctuations are continuing longer than is expected, it may be time for them to seek support from a counselor.
3. Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder that causes periods of mania followed by periods of depression. The following are symptoms of a manic episode:
• Feelings of euphoria
• Acting abnormally upbeat or energetic
• Exaggerated sense of self-confidence
• Not sleeping as much as usual
• Racing thoughts; jumping from topic to topic during a conversation
• Engaging in reckless behavior
Depression is characterized by a low mood, feelings of hopelessness, and a lack of energy or motivation. The difference in mood and behavior between a depressive episode and a manic episode can be jarring for loved ones to witness.
Each phase typically lasts at least a couple weeks, so if you’re seeing day-to-day or hour-by-hour changes in yourself or a loved one, bipolar probably isn’t the explanation. The disorder is treatable, though, so it’s always worth speaking with a professional if you have any worries about mental health.
4. Cognitive Decline
Alzheimer’s and dementia can have a notable effect on mood and personality for older adults. Over time, cognitive decline affects your ability to connect with the world. This experience can be very frightening and confusing, so it’s common for seniors with dementia to show signs of anger, agitation, anxiety, or sadness.
Mood swings caused by cognitive decline can be tough to manage because there isn’t a clear treatment or solution to the problem. If you see a loved on struggling with mood changes due to dementia, the best thing you can do is be a calming presence for them. You can offer their favorite music or other activities, or you could simply offer a listening ear as they express how they feel.
5. Physical Health Problems
There are a number of physical health problems that can contribute to mood changes. One common explanation is a urinary tract infection, which is common for elderly women. UTIs are known to cause mood fluctuations, irritability, confusion, and restlessness. The reason why isn’t entirely clear, but UTI is often one of the first ailments doctors consider if an aging patient shows unexplained changes in mood or behavior.
Chronic pain can cause a change in mood, too. If the pain comes and goes throughout the day, your loved one’s mood may correlate with how much pain they’re in. Pain can cause sleeping issues, too, and emotional regulation is far more difficult when you haven’t had enough sleep.
Certain nutritional deficiencies can affect mental and emotional health as well. For example, a vitamin D deficiency could play a role in depressive symptoms, and an iron deficiency can cause severely low energy. Your food fuels your body and your brain, so if your diet is lacking something, your moods could start to fluctuate dramatically.
What to Do if Your Loved One Is Experiencing Mood Swings
Sometimes, friends and family overlook emotional problems in elderly adults, believing them to be a typical part of growing older. Mood swings don’t have to be the norm for elderly women, though. There are several common explanations for changes in mood, but there are always plenty of ways to find help and support.
If you’re concerned about a loved one, your first step should be to speak with them directly. Older adults don’t always want to open up about emotional struggles, but it can be helpful for them to know that you’re here to help. If they’re able to pinpoint the cause of their change in mood, this will make it easier to find the right resources for assistance.
Mood problems often happen without a clear cause, though. In this case, your loved one should consult with their primary care physician. Their doctor may order a blood panel or other test to see if there are any physical health issues at play. If they suspect that the mood changes are solely due to mental health, they may offer a referral to a psychologist or therapist.
No matter the cause of the mood issues, therapy can be a valuable experience for seniors. A counselor can help you or your loved one find the root cause of the mood swings, and exploring and processing this problem could reduce the emotional turmoil. Counseling can also help with developing coping skills, so even if the mood fluctuations don’t go away entirely, you or your loved one can learn to manage the emotions without acting on unhealthy thoughts.
Mood swings in elderly women are common, but that doesn’t mean they’re unavoidable. In most cases, changes in mood can be treated with medical intervention, counseling, or other types of support. If you notice that yourself or an aging relative is experiencing sudden or intense changes in mood, reach out to a trusted doctor, therapist, or other healthcare professional to get back on track with physical and emotional health.
Blue Moon Senior Counseling provides therapy services for older adults. To learn more about our practice or to connect with a licensed counselor in your area, contact us today.