Treating Bipolar Disorder in Seniors

Jun 20, 2016

Treating Bipolar Disorder in Seniors

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Those who have seen the effects of Bipolar Disorder first hand may be tempted to describe it as two separate illnesses. This is because of the two primary phases of the disorder: mania and depression. So, unlike most mental disorders, these two very different symptoms must be treated by more than one form of medication or treatment.

Use of Medication to Treat Bipolar Disorder

Most commonly, a physician will recommend a mood-stabilizing medication and an atypical antipsychotic, as well as an anti-depressant depending upon the individual’s symptoms.


Mood stabilizers help individuals with Bipolar manage the intense highs and lows that come with the disorder. Lithium is the most common mood stabilizer used to treat Bipolar disorder. Valproic Acid is another mood stabilizer used to treat the manic phase of Bipolar.

While proven to be helpful in stabilizing many symptoms of Bipolar, these medications can come along with negative side effects. Side effects include nausea, dizziness, fatigue, muscle weakness, tremors and more. Physicians are especially careful when prescribing mood stabilizers to older adults, because these side effects can worsen if the individual is taking other medications or suffering from other physical or mental disorders.


Antipsychotics are typically prescribed with a mood-stabilizer and used to combat insomnia, anxiety and other symptoms of Bipolar, like agitation. Three common antipsychotics used to treat Bipolar disorder include Abilify, Clozaril, and Zyprexa.

Like all medications, these medications come with a slew of side effects. The most common side effects include tremors, weight gain, dry mouth and blurred vision. Similar to mood-stabilizers, physicians must be careful when prescribing these drugs to older adults.


Antidepressants are not typically recommended by a physician to be the only medication treating an individual with bipolar. In some cases, an antidepressant can be added to the medication regimen to help lessen the symptoms of depression in Bipolar.

A physician may prescribe medications like Zoloft or Wellbutrin to an individual that is suffering from a major depression episode, but the side effects can be risky. Side effects include weight gain, nausea, loss of sexual desire, dry mouth, constipation and possible risk of increased depression.

While these are the most commonly used medications, a physician may be hesitant to prescribe certain medications to individuals over a certain age. They are especially hesitant to prescribe some medications to seniors that are already taking other medications that may not mix well with the Bipolar medications. 

Use of Therapy to Treat Bipolar Disorder

Individuals suffering from Bipolar disorder typically partake in something called Psychotherapy. Simply put, psychotherapy is the use of psychological means to treat a mental illness rather than medication. In the case of a Bipolar individual, both are typically necessary.

While pursuing this form of treatment, an individual will sit down with a psychologist regularly (i.e. biweekly or weekly), and speak freely about their thoughts and feelings. The psychologist will work with the individual to help learn and develop healthy and effective habits. People see psychologists for many reasons, and the use of psychotherapy is scientifically proven to help most individuals with mental disorders such as Bipolar.

Treating Bipolar Disorder in Seniors
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