What are Psychosomatic Disorders?

Somatic symptom disorder (SSD) or psychosomatic disorder or somatoform disorder is a mental illness that causes physical problems like pain. There might be physical symptoms, but often there is no underlying cause to explain these issues. They cause disproportionate distress to the elderly.

Somatic disorders are the most common presentation in the elderly with mental illnesses according to a study. The most common symptoms of somatoform or psycho-somatic disorders are:

  1. Pain
  2. Neurologic problems
  3. Gastrointestinal issues
  4. Sexual problems

Many older adults with SSD also have an anxiety disorder and vice versa.

Also Read: How to Prevent Depression in Elderly

Types of Psychosomatic Disorders

Here are some of the most common somatoform disorders in the elderly:

1. Conversion Disorder

Conversion disorder is when an older adult shows physical symptoms of several neurological diseases. However, there is no neurological disorder actually present. Symptoms of conversion disorder may include paralysis, convulsions or seizures, loss in vision or deafness. Conversion disorders occur due to trauma. It affects an older adult’s sensory systems and movement.

2. Pain Disorder

Pain disorders are manifested as recurring pain in various parts of the body with no known cause. This pain causes severe distress to the patient. However, as there are no underlying pathological relations to the pain, most people tend to ignore these symptoms. Psychological factors play a major role in the onset, intensity, and level of pain. They also decide how long a patient will suffer. It takes doctors quite a while to diagnose this disorder as they must eliminate all other causes before zeroing on pain disorder.

3. Hypochondriasis

Illness Anxiety Disorder or Hypochondriasis is a disorder in which an older adult is convinced that they are suffering from a serious disease. They tend to misinterpret normal bodily signs or minor symptoms, even when medical reports and tests are normal. In some cases, they also experience real physical symptoms according to the imagined disease. It is a very distressing condition for the older adult in question because they believe that they are suffering from a major disease but no one takes them seriously.

4. Body dysmorphic disorder

Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is an obsession over an imagined or minor physical anomaly. As we age, there might be an appearance of wrinkles or age spots over the face and body. Older adults with BDD are known to be excessively concerned with these changes. They might even seek out dermatologists of cosmetic surgeons to correct these changes. But they are usually unsatisfied with the results.

Also Read: What is Anxiety Disorder?

Psychosomatic disorders are very distressing to the older adult suffering from them. In many cases, they suffer from actual pain without any relief.

Usually, after all the regular tests to determine the underlying condition (and the lack thereof), your doctor might direct you to a psychiatrist to seek mental treatment.

Psychotherapy is very beneficial in the treatment of somatoform disorders. The most common form of treatment for SSD in older adults is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). In some cases, your doctor might also prescribe antidepressant medicines to treat anxiety issues.

Timely and effective treatment can help seniors with somatoform disorders and ensure that they live a happy life.

Also Read: Caregiving guide for elderly patients with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

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