Although recent years have seen a marked positive shift in terms of mental health awareness and public attitudes toward mental illness, mental health issues in older adults are still all too often overlooked, undiagnosed, or seen as taboo by some people. And for individuals in this position, deteriorating mental health can have serious consequences on their physical health and general well-being. Here, we’ll discuss some of the most common mental health issues that seniors deal with, their impact, and how older individuals can take steps to protect their mental health.
Causes of Mental Health Issues Among Older Populations
The aging process comes with its own set of concerns, challenges, changes, and stressors. All of these things can take a toll on the mental health of seniors, particularly those without access to support systems and treatment.
For example, many seniors experience major losses or transitions as they age. Relocating or downsizing can be a big source of worry and uncertainty, especially for people who are attached to their homes. Further, grief over the death of a spouse or friend can easily lead to loneliness and/or depression in senior citizens.
In particular, social isolation among seniors can also take a huge toll on their mental health. Factors such as retirement, disability, and health problems can all contribute to seniors becoming socially isolated. In addition to being a potential risk factor for isolation, for some, retiring may also feel like losing their sense of purpose, which can further lead to feelings of depression or sadness. Health problems and cognitive decline, too, can cause feelings of anxiety or hopelessness. For seniors who live with chronic pain, the use of prescription painkillers such as opioids can result in addiction and substance abuse.
The Impact of Mental Health on Seniors
Seniors may face a variety of mental health disorders, including depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. If not addressed properly, poor mental health can have extremely harmful effects on the lives of older individuals. One of the most insidious things about mental illness is that it sometimes causes a feedback loop in which the mental illness itself can exacerbate the factors that caused it—thus causing further deterioration of that person’s mental health.
For instance, consider this hypothetical example: an elderly woman lives alone since the recent death of her partner. Her sadness over the death of her spouse, combined with mobility issues, means that she rarely has the inclination or energy to leave the house. She becomes increasingly isolated, which in turn makes her feel worse. Her depression causes a reduction in her appetite, and she often resorts to eating quick, easy prepackaged meals. She begins to suffer from the effects of poor nutrition, including lower energy and more health problems, which make it even more difficult for her to leave the house—thereby increasing her sense of isolation.
According to the National Council on Aging, the rate of depression among older adults can range from 1%-13.5%, depending on living situations and circumstances. Even more worrisome is the rate of suicide among older adults, which is disproportionate to that of other age groups. Although seniors make up only 12% of the population, they account for 18% of suicides.
Seniors and Mental Health Issues: What You Can Do
Fortunately, lifestyle factors and environment can go a long way toward helping maintain and protect seniors’ mental health and well-being. If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or anxiety, the following strategies may help to address or minimize their effects:
- Get Regular Exercise. We’ve written before about the profound benefits that exercise can have on the health and well-being of older adults. In addition to keeping you physically healthy, exercise releases endorphins, which are known to boost mood and can even help manage pain. On top of that, exercise can provide a positive distraction from negative thoughts and feelings. At Seabury, residents have access to state-of-the-art fitness facilities and resources, making physical activity as convenient as possible.
- Stay Connected. In terms of mental health, social isolation can be extremely dangerous. Clubs, social outings, and classes are all great ways to develop and maintain meaningful connections with others, thereby staving off the harmful effects of loneliness and isolation.
- Make Time for Fulfilling Activities. Creativity and intellectual stimulation are important for maintaining cognitive function as you age. On top of that, they can also provide a sense of purpose and fulfillment, as well as an opportunity to socialize.
- Take Advantage of Senior Mental Health Services. It’s not uncommon for depression to be misdiagnosed or overlooked completely in a clinical setting, or for seniors to hesitate to bring up mental health issues because of perceived social taboos. For that reason, Seabury’s comprehensive health offerings include mental health, ensuring that residents can get the help they need.
Seabury provides peaceful living opportunities for adults ages 50 and older looking for fulfilling, independent lifestyles. Our philosophy centers the physical, emotional, and spiritual wellness of our Residents. Living options range from independent apartments and villas to cottages as well. Our continuum of care model is designed to make Residents’ lives as comfortable as possible. Your Life Plan Contract at Seabury, should you require it in the future, also includes a transition to assisted living, memory support, and nursing care services. Contact us today for more information!