Advocates have come a long way in campaigning for mental health awareness through several movements across the globe. Today, we see it coming to fruition by the vast number of people recognizing mental health as an essential part of one’s overall well-being.
However, there’s still so much to learn and improve on when it comes to mental health. One such example is the mental well-being of seniors in their golden years.
Not much is known about mental health and aging, making it even more important to spread awareness about it and protect society’s elderly.
Let us start this month’s Mental Health Awareness campaign by learning these eight important facts about senior mental health. Share the knowledge with your family, friends, caregivers, and senior assisted living community.
1. Mental Illness Is Never a Normal Part of Aging
Old age is a major risk factor in developing a mental illness. But this does not mean that mental problems are a normal part of aging. Many elderlies go through the ups and downs of their lives but still feel satisfied and happy, while others seem to have it all but show the telltale signs of unhealthy mental well-being.
The stresses and changes that come with old age affect every senior differently. Loved ones and caregivers should be more empathic and observant of their senior loved one’s behaviors and emotional struggles.
2. About 15% Of Seniors Aged 60 Battle a Mental Problem
15% or almost one in every five seniors suffer from a mental health concern. Some even experience two to three mental conditions at the same time. Even worse, many older adults suffer in silence because mental health issues are usually under-identified by loved ones, doctors, and even the seniors themselves.
Some of the major causes of mental health illnesses in older adults include:
- A chronic disorder
- A decline in their body’s functions (e.g., limited mobility, impaired vision, and hearing).
- Loss of a loved one
- Financial problems
- Medication and illnesses that affect emotions, thoughts, and behavior.
3. Depression and Dementia Are the Most Common Mental Illnesses in Seniors
Depression and dementia are two notorious mental and neurological disorders to affect older adults aged 60 and above. About 5% of seniors have dementia, while 7% succumb to depression. Here are some insights on these two common illnesses:
- Depression refers to a mood disorder that greatly affects how you think, feel, and behave. This disease usually shows itself through persistent sadness and loss of interest in daily activities.
- Dementia refers to a progressive brain disorder wherein the affected person experiences cognitive problems, such as memory loss.
On some occasions, dementia can trigger depression, which can worsen the disease even further.
Even happy and active seniors in senior assisted living homes can experience mental problems, so check on your loved ones regularly.
4. Elderlies Have Higher Suicide Rates Than the Younger Generation
Older adults are only 12% of the population in the country, but they account for about 18% of suicide deaths. The number continues to rise further for seniors aged 75 and above, particularly in men.
The statistic does not include silent suicides, such as deaths caused by “accidents,” self-starvation and dehydration, and overdoses.
Most of the reported suicides happen to isolated seniors and those already struggling with mental issues.
5. Old Age Is a Barrier to Accessing Mental Health Treatment
According to a journal published by Cambridge University, 50% of their senior respondents did not seek help for their mental illness because they believe that anxiety and depressive episodes are a normal part of aging.
Besides that wrong notion, other barriers to mental health treatment include:
- Cost of treatment. (Medicare only covers 50% of healthcare service provided for a mental health-related issue)
- Fear of medication
- Not finding therapy helpful because they don’t believe that therapists understand their issues.
Also, seniors don’t want to give their family another “financial burden” by seeking professional help.
6. Senior Mental Health Illness Can Be Treated Through Early Detection
Everyone deserves quality mental healthcare services regardless of age and other factors. But the key to early treatment and intervention is always early diagnosis.
Learning about the symptoms and early warning signs of mental illnesses can significantly help the elderly in senior assisted living communities. This leads to early intervention and treatment plans, thus preventing the development of a major mental disorder.
Some of the most common warning signs of mental illness in seniors can include:
- Loneliness and depressive episodes that last for weeks.
- Rapid changes in mood, such as irritability, anger, and sadness.
- Loss of appetite and sleep problems.
- Withdrawal from social activities.
- A gradual drop in performing daily tasks, such as eating, bathing, or attending gatherings.
- Feeling disconnected, anxious, and negative.
These symptoms call for a check-up from your GP or consultation from a trusted psychologist or psychiatrist.
7. Older Adults Can Recover From Mental Illnesses
Having a mental illness is a long and painful battle, but there’s hope at the end of that tunnel. Older adults have the same success rate of recovering from a mental illness as younger individuals.
In fact, studies suggest that 80% of seniors with depression can recover from it with the help of psychotherapy and medication.
But there’s a much better alternative to treatments—prevention through health promotion. Senior assisted living communities and families of aging adults should promote active and healthy aging by:
- Providing the proper long-term care, housing, and medical services.
- Social support from family and the means to stay connected with them.
- Programs for mental health awareness in seniors.
- Senior-friendly social activities that can enrich their lives.
8. Mental Health Affects the Overall Wellness of Seniors
The mental health of seniors is just as important as their physical well-being. It greatly influences their overall wellness. That’s why neglecting mental health support leads to deteriorating physical health, slow healing from other diseases, and poor life quality.
Aging should be a graceful transition that’s full of growth and enjoyment. Despite their age, seniors can and should continue to thrive and enjoy life to its fullest.