116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
According to the World Health Organization, the percentage of the world’s population over the age of 60 will nearly double from 12 percent in the year 2015 to 22 percent in 2050. While physical disorders like chronic disease and neurological disorders like dementia are key issues for this population, it is also important to note that around 15 percent of seniors suffer from a mental disorder. The most common of which in adults over the age of 60 are depression and anxiety disorders. Around a quarter of deaths from self-harm are among people in this age bracket. It’s important to understand the risk factors, warning signs and potential solutions to mental health issues facing this segment of the population.
Older adults can face many of the same risk factors as those in earlier stages in life, but are often confronted with their own unique challenges as well. Seniors may experience increased grief and loss with the passing of loved ones, loss of independence or changes in living arrangements as they shift to assisted or senior living facilities rather than the home they have known. These changes may increase feelings of isolation. Retired individuals may face additional financial stress from living on fixed incomes. Things like chronic pain, reduced mobility, frailty and other health problems can also cause stress. In addition, one in six elderly people experience abuse, whether physical, verbal, sexual, emotional or financial, which can lead to a loss of dignity and self-esteem.
Given these risk factors, it is vital for older adults and those in their support systems to recognize the warning signs for mental health issues. This can be challenging because mental illness can often lead to physical health problems, and vice versa. This means that mental health concerns in older adults might be overlooked as the focus lies on physical health concerns alone. Additionally, older adults that have perhaps long been self-sufficient may have difficulty or be reluctant to discuss mental health concerns. It is important to watch for things like changes in appetite or energy level, difficulties sleeping, increased worry or stress, feelings of hopelessness or sadness, anger or aggressiveness, a desire for drugs or alcohol, obsessive-compulsive tendencies or persistent headaches not explained by health problems.
While any of these symptoms does not automatically indicate a mental health issue, knowing the signs can help family members, friends and caregivers be prepared. If you have a concern regarding an older loved one’s mental health, don’t hesitate to reach out to the individual’s doctor or health care provider. The professional can and should be able to direct you to appropriate resources. This might include therapists that are trained in the assessment and treatment of mental health issues in older adults, community organizations that provide support to seniors or potential medication options to treat mental illness.
Taking steps to positively manage and improve mental health in older adults may look and feel similar to other age groups. It is important for seniors to maintain proper nutrition, get enough sleep, exercise regularly and manage physical health. Just as important, spending time with family and maintaining friendships can have positive impacts on an older person’s mental health. Things like participating in hobbies, group activities, volunteering, helping others and even being able to share feelings with others can also provide benefits.
It’s a common belief in society that raising children takes a village. The same can be said about caring for our elderly loved ones. I encourage you to take a moment to check in on an older loved one, encourage mental health awareness and provide support as you’re able.
Bryan Busch is a licensed mental health counselor in Cedar Rapids. He also works at Folience, the parent company of The Gazette. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.