Mental Health: Aging

Getting old. We all do it if we’re lucky. It’s bittersweet that we can live so long – we persevere for decades yet as we age our bodies weaken. Our lives become rich with wisdom and family, but there are hard truths to confront.

It’s common practice to maintain physical health for longevity. It keeps us able bodied and empowered. However, seeing as it is actually our minds that will enjoy a long life, it is vital to nurture mental health as well.

Around 20% of people over 55 experience a mental health problem. Suicide rates, too, are higher among older adults and in these cases mental health is often the culprit. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “the most common conditions [for the elderly] include anxiety, cognitive impairment, and mood disorders (such as depression or bipolar disorder.)”

Depression is the most common disorder among seniors, a similarity to many other groups. Its symptoms – sleep disturbance, over/under eating, loss of energy – can impede medical treatments and make physical conditions worse for older patients. Further compounding the problem, depression is grossly under-reported in seniors. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) provides a list of warning signs for depression among the elderly, including: “noticeable changes in mood,” “having trouble feeling positive emotions,” “a need for alcohol or drugs,” and various other tell tale signs of psychological distress.

Another mental health issue for older patients is neurocognitive disorders (such as dementia/Alzheimer’s disease). These diseases are characterized by deterioration of thought, speech, motor skills, and other functions. Severity is diagnosed based on the level of symptoms and their effect on a patient’s life. As far as treatment, medications and therapies are available to strengthen memory and mental performance. Additional treatment is usually recommended – not just for the patient, but for family and loved ones as well. Neurocognitive diseases can emotionally, physically, and mentally challenge caregivers. 

Preventative measures for mental health in seniors are similar to those for physical health. A regular exercise regimen is recommended. So is a well rounded, nutritious diet.

Those necessities, however, are sometimes insufficient to head off psychological distress. Experts place great emphasis on social and emotional support as another staple of a balanced mental/emotional life. A lot of senior patients spend less and less time with friends and family. Positive contact with loved ones can work wonders for anyone’s mental state.

It’s important for older adults suffering psychological illness to find professional help. There are psychologists/psychiatrists who focus on seniors, and often transportation can be arranged to and from doctor’s offices. If in-person care is out of the question then services like telepsychiatry or teletherapy are invaluable, getting needed help to immobile patients.

For those of us who can, it’s important to spend time with our parents, grandparents – and if they’re still kickin ’- great-grandparents. It is a fulfilling deed to be there for those who were once there for us. It is also important to remember that they may be going through a tough time in their lives… and assist in finding them the help they deserve.

Note: For assistance with behavioral health issues, contact us at 305-740-3340 or schedule an appointment with BregmanMD.

References:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (May, 2016) The State of Mental Health and Aging in America. Retrieved on December 15, 2018 from https://www.cdc.gov/aging/agingdata/data-portal/mental-health.html

National Institute of Mental Health (2018, March) Older Adults and Mental Health. Retrieved on December 15, 2018 from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/older-adults-and-mental-health/index.shtml

World Health Organization (2017, December) Mental health of older adults. Retrieved on December 15, 2018 from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/mental-health-of-older-adults