While most seniors have good mental health, many older adults are at risk of developing mental disorders, neurological disorders or substance use problems as well as other health conditions such as diabetes, hearing loss, and osteoarthritis. There may be multiple risk factors for mental health problems at any point in life. Older people may experience life stressors common to all people, but also stressors that are more common in later life, like a significant ongoing loss in capacities and a decline in functional ability.
Depression and mood disorders are also fairly widespread among older adults, and disturbingly, they often go undiagnosed and untreated. The CDC reports that 5% of seniors 65 and older reported having current depression and about 10.5% reported a diagnosis of depression at some point in their lives.
- Globally, the population is aging rapidly. Between 2015 and 2050, the proportion of the world’s population over 60 years will nearly double, from 12% to 22%.
- Mental health and well-being are as important in older age as at any other time of life.
- Mental and neurological disorders among older adults account for 6.6% of the total disability for this age group.
- Approximately 15% of adults aged 60 and over suffer from a mental disorder.
A healthy lifestyle can help to prevent the onset or worsening of mental health conditions, as well as chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. It can also help people recover from these conditions. For those dealing with a chronic health condition and the people who care for them, it can be especially important to focus on mental health. When dealing with dueling diagnoses, focusing on both physical and mental health concerns can be daunting – but critically important in achieving overall wellness.
The same goes for extreme anxiety or long-term depression. Caregivers should keep an eye out for the following warning signs, which could indicate a mental health concern:
- Changes in appearance or dress, or problems maintaining the home or yard.
- Confusion, disorientation, problems with concentration or decision-making.
- Decrease or increase in appetite; changes in weight.
- Depressed mood lasting longer than two weeks.
- Feelings of worthlessness, inappropriate guilt, helplessness; thoughts of suicide.
- Memory loss, especially recent or short-term memory problems.
- Physical problems that can’t otherwise be explained: aches, constipation, etc.
- Social withdrawal; loss of interest in things that used to be enjoyable.
- Trouble handling finances or working with numbers.
- Unexplained fatigue, energy loss or sleep changes.
Don’t hesitate to seek help if your loved one is experiencing any of the symptoms above, urges the Geriatric Mental Health Foundation.
There are professionals out there willing to help, including your family doctor, which is always a good place to start. You could also consult a counselor, geriatric psychiatrist or psychologist. The important part is not to stand by and suffer alone. Mental health is essential to everyone’s overall health and well-being, and mental illnesses are common and treatable.
There are things you can do that may help. Finding a reason to laugh, going for a walk with a friend, meditating, playing with a pet, or working from home once a week can go a long way in making you both physically and mentally healthy. The company of animals – whether as pets or service animals— can have a profound impact on a person’s quality of life and ability to recover from illnesses. A pet can be a source of comfort and can help us to live mentally healthier lives. And whether you go to church, meditate daily, or simply find time to enjoy that cup of tea each morning while checking in with yourself – it can be important to connect with your spiritual side in order to find that mind-body connection.