How does mental health differ when we age? Many seniors don’t talk about mental health because it wasn’t a popular topic for them growing up. However, 20% of people over the age of 55 have some type of mental health disorder. This article will talk about mental health in seniors and why it’s essential for them to receive mental health care.
Why Mental Health in Seniors Isn’t Talked About
Mental health isn’t talked about as much as it should be by the elderly themselves and the people who care for them. Those considered elderly weren’t raised in an era where mental health was as openly talked about as it is today. If a person went to therapy, it was not discussed. It was completely private.
Caretakers and family might also not talk about elderly mental health, even if they notice signs that their loved one is unwell. Many assume that these changes in behavior and body are a part of the aging process. They ignore weight loss, changes in mood, and isolation and mistake it for frailty or perhaps early signs of dementia. As a result, their loved ones suffer in silence.
Why the Elderly Often Develop Mental Illness
Mood disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and substance use disorder (SUD) often occur in the elderly. Mood disorders are often lifelong diagnoses and can develop at any point in someone’s life. Older people who experienced trauma at some point in their life, whether through life experiences or military activity, can have PTSD that lasts their entire life if untreated. SUD can even be common in older people who take medication for chronic pain or develop an addiction earlier in life.
The elderly can develop mental illnesses later in life for many reasons. Some might become depressed due to isolation from families, dealing with symptoms of chronic disease, experiencing loss, and struggling to adapt to life changes. They might feel anxious about the end of their life, especially if they haven’t come to terms with death or their affairs aren’t in order.
Coronavirus Pandemic and Elderly Mental Health
The ongoing pandemic has undoubtedly harmed elderly mental health, but it still hasn’t been studied enough. What has surfaced are results from a study showing that 37% of the elderly experience depression and anxiety. Those in the elderly demographic tended to experience isolation the longest compared to the general population.
The elderly are also the most at risk and more likely to die from coronavirus due to age. Any chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, or dementia make them more likely to experience severe to fatal symptoms. The elderly are most likely to receive poor treatment during the pandemic. Medical professionals give up on treatment early due to their age, and everyday people mock them for being at risk.
Mental Health Should Be Taken Seriously
Many different mental health illnesses and disorders affect the elderly population. A survey in 2012 found that one in five elderly citizens have some sort of mental health disorder. Elders with depression can experience worse heart disease, diabetes, and stroke symptoms. Older men have the highest rate of suicide compared to the general population. Men aged 85 and older have a suicide rate of 45.23 per 100,000 compared to the overall rate of 11.01 per 100,000 for all ages.
Signs of Bad Mental Health in Older People
Catching the signs early on can keep your loved one safe. Depressive symptoms aren’t a sign of aging. If you notice these symptoms, your loved one might need clinical help.
The signs can include:
- Changes in appetite, mood, and energy
- Difficulty feeling positive emotions
- Change in sleep habits
- Increased worry or stress
- Becoming more irritable, aggressive, or angry than usual
- Feelings of sadness or hopelessness
- Suicidal thoughts or behaviors
- Difficulty concentrating, restlessness, or feeling on edge
- Increased alcohol consumption or drug use
- Engaging in reckless behavior
- Health issues such as headaches, digestive problems, or pain
- Obsessive thinking or compulsivity
How to Help Your Older Loved One’s Mental Health
It’s essential to notice the signs that the older people in your life are dealing with mental illness and to provide the support they need. In Texas, 17% of elders reported that they rarely or never received the social or emotional support they needed.
Support the elders in your life by:
- Continuing social interaction through frequent visits and phone calls
- Encouraging them to partake in hobbies
- Prioritizing physical health even in later years, including eating well, physically exercising, personal hygiene, and good sleep habits
- Noticing the signs that they are unwell early on
- Helping them retain self-esteem, integrity, and contentment towards the end of their life
It shouldn’t be ignored if you notice any physical or emotional changes in your loved one. Your loved one might not be open about their emotional state, and if they aren’t used to being honest about their emotions, then that’s okay. There are still ways that you can be supportive and help your elderly loved one if they are experiencing distress or difficulties in the latter part of their life. You can help your loved ones by improving their environment, continuing communication, and showing that you love and care about them. Many elderly, at the very least, need to know that they aren’t alone. If your loved one is in assisted care, make sure to maintain contact with them and be a part of their life. At Symphony of Wimberley, we put the care of our residents first. To learn more, call us today at (512) 243-5852.