We’re all familiar with the caricature of “the cranky old man” (or woman). The elderly recluse who everyone tries to avoid because he or she is unpleasant to be around. While there are many exaggerated ideas of how older adults behave, the truth is these negative characteristics associated with seniors are not typical. As we age, our bodies naturally function at a diminished capacity. We assume, then, that our minds work less optimally as well. While some forgetfulness can occur, generally, memory loss, mood swings, and self-isolation are not normal signs of aging. Often, they are a cry for help.

Caretakers see to the physical state of their patients and their emotional and mental needs as well. As winter approaches and we continue to practice social restraint in the era of COVID, our aging population’s mental health is more important—and at-risk—than ever.

Facts About Mental Health and Seniors

Mental health includes emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It not only affects how we live and cope with life, but determines how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Older adults are sometimes at risk for mental health problems. According to the
National Council on Aging, “one in four older adults experiences some mental disorder such as depression, anxiety, and dementia.” Other common mental illnesses afflicting the elderly include Alzheimer’s disease, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. Regardless, “mental health issues are not a normal part of aging.”

Mental Health America explains that brain chemistry for individuals with mental illness changes to the extent that they cannot behave or feel how they want to. How the illness manifests itself varies by person. For some, it could include experiencing extreme and unexpected changes in mood, such as overwhelming sadness and worry. For others, it could manifest as mental blocks such as the inability to think clearly or communicate with someone who is speaking to them or having bizarre thoughts to help explain strange or unfamiliar feelings.

According to the World Health Organization:

  • Between 2015 and 2050, the proportion of the world’s population over 60 years will increase from 12% to 22%.
  • Mental health and neurological disorders among older adults account for 6.6% of the total disability for this age group.
  • Approximately 15% of adults aged 60 and over have a mental disorder.
  • The most common mental and neurological disorders in this age group are dementia (5%) and depression (7%) of the world’s older population.

Cause of Mental Health Issues

Just as our mental health is an indicator of how well we manage our lives, the reverse is accurate, and significant life changes can impact our mental wellness. Seniors experience unique circumstances that may negatively impact their ability to cope with their day-to-day. Some examples include:

  • The death of loved ones (including siblings, friends, and partners)
  • Retirement (loss of a sense of purpose)
  • Financial difficulties in the later stages of life
  • Managing a physical illness
  • Facing their mortality
  • The need to lean on others for care or support (loss of independence)
  • Children and dependents branching out on their own (less dependent on the parent)

Most adults will adjust to these life changes, but others will have more trouble, placing their mental health in jeopardy.

Mental Illness Indicators

Seniors may be reluctant to admit and seek help for mental health issues on their own, making it essential for caretakers to support and encourage them. Caretakers should note changes to their patient’s physical state and drastic changes to their overall demeanor and behavior, which
does not resolve itself in a few weeks. Below are some signs of possible mental health issues from MedlinePlus:

  • Changes in mood or energy level
  • A change in your eating or sleeping habits
  • Withdrawing from the people and activities you enjoy
  • Feeling unusually confused, forgetful, angry, upset, worried, or scared
  • Feeling numb or like nothing matters
  • Having unexplained aches and pains
  • Feeling sadness or hopelessness
  • Smoking, drinking, or using drugs more than usual
  • Anger, irritability, or aggressiveness
  • Having thoughts and memories that you can’t get out of your head
  • Hearing voices or believing things that are not true
  • Thinking of harming yourself or others

Resources for Seniors

If you or a loved one feel that you need help to address potential mental health issues, contact your doctor regarding the next step. Additionally, talk therapy can treat someone’s mental state, and psychotherapists can prescribe medicines for more advanced cases. For more information
on mental health and seniors, visit the following links: