Mental Health Issues in the Elderly

Advancing age naturally brings with it more concerns about physical health—and in many cases, more concerns about mental health as well. Elderly people are more susceptible to mental health issues for a number of reasons, such as bereavement over the loss of a loved one, anxiety over lower income levels during retirement, the stress of declining physical health, and social isolation that can lead to depression.

Mental health disorders among the elderly are quite prevalent. The World Health Organization reports that over 20% of adults over age 60 suffer from a mental or neurological disorder with the most common issues being depression, dementia, and anxiety.

Often physical ailments and mental health issues go hand in hand. The elderly may find themselves depressed about the physical decline associated with aging as well as thoughts of their own mortality. Many elderly are battling serious illnesses such as cancer or heart disease, which may cause them fear or anxiety. Others may be experiencing chronic pain or mobility issues that lessen their ability to engage in activities that provide joy in their lives.

Any of these issues may make some elderly individuals seek solace in substance or alcohol use, which serves as a crutch that oftentimes only worsens their mental health issues. In worst-case scenarios, individuals may experience thoughts of suicide.

Cognitive impairment is another major cause of mental health concerns in the elderly. A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia is often accompanied with behavioral changes that may include anger, agitation, irritability, depression, and even schizophrenia.

A Lack of Intervention

Mental health issues in the elderly often go undiagnosed and thus untreated. The reasons for lack of diagnosis are twofold. First, elderly individuals themselves may not recognize their mental health issues for what they are, especially in their early stages. They may consider their forgetfulness or general malaise as a natural part of aging. Because their mental condition progresses slowly, they may not realize the need for intervention until their impairment reaches a critical stage.

Secondly, societal issues play a role in the failure to identify mental health issues among the elderly in a timely manner. The fact that elderly people are often isolated and don’t have a social support structure makes it all the more likely that their mental health issues will remain undiagnosed or under-treated.

One way to improve mental health interventions in the older age demographic is through promoting what the WHO characterizes as Active and Healthy Ageing, which entails creating living conditions and environments that support wellbeing among the elderly so that they are more likely to lead a healthier life.

The WHO advocates a number of steps to better address the mental health of older adults, including:

  • Better training of health professionals in the area of eldercare
  • Preventing and managing age-associated chronic disease, including mental, neurological and substance use disorders
  • Designing sustainable policies on long-term and palliative care
  • Developing age-friendly services and settings

It’s also important for communities to offer resources that meet the physical and mental health care needs of older adults. These can include the development of a supportive housing policy as well as a social support network targeted at elderly people and their caregivers.

Early Diagnosis Is Key

The first step in treating mental health disorders among the elderly is to achieve an early diagnosis that will lead to timely treatment. Emphasis should be on a holistic approach that optimizes both physical health and mental well-being, since the two issues are so closely intertwined.

Physical and mental health often respond to the same interventions and lifestyle habits, such as healthy eating, regular exercise, staying connected with family and friends, regular visits with healthcare professionals, and appropriate use of medications and therapeutics.

If you or an elderly loved one are experiencing mental health issues, don’t hesitate to seek help. You can start by speaking with your family doctor. Or when the level of concern warrants it, seek out an inpatient treatment center like Beachside Rehab, which offers a mental health program with expertise in treating anxiety, bipolar disorder, grief and loss, as well as a full-fledged alcohol and substance abuse treatment program.

With a focus on health, well-being, and recovery, Beachside Rehab can put those in their later years on a path toward living a more hopeful, fulfilling, and joyful life.

Beachside Rehab offers a holistic approach to mental health care treatment for adults of all ages. If you’d like to learn more, contact our trained admissions counselors at 866-349-1770 for details.