Senior mental health disorders are a serious yet under-reported issue affecting many adults age 60 and older.
Older adults struggling with mental health problems often are unlikely to complain or discuss these issues with others due to shame, or dismissing it as a normal part of aging.
This means that those who need help are not receiving it, and their health and overall quality of life is affected as a result.
Let’s dig into the facts on senior mental health, the risk factors, how to identify struggles in a loved one, and how to help them focus on total well-being.
How many older adults struggle with mental health issues?
It has fortunately become more common and accepted to discuss and share knowledge about mental health issues in younger people, but what about senior mental health?
While more than 20% of adults age 60 and older suffer from a mental or neurological disorder, mental health problems in this group are generally identified less by health care professionals and by seniors themselves.
According to the World Health Organization, 6.6% of all disability among those 60 and older is attributed to mental and neurological disorders.
The most common disorders affecting this group include:
- Substance use problems
The problem is, many seniors either do not recognize their own mental health issues, or they are unlikely to discuss these experiences with others — including their own doctors.
How to assess a senior’s mental health
As we age, our physical health issues can contribute to mental health issues, and vice versa. However, many people attribute cognitive decline and mental health struggles to the natural effects of aging, and this is not the case.
While mental health disorders are more common in younger adults, older adults are less likely to seek help for them.
That is why family members are encouraged to learn the signs and symptoms of mental health issues or cognitive decline in a loved one so you can support and encourage them to seek help.
Symptoms of mental health issues in a senior loved one
If you believe your loved one is struggling with their mental health or cognitive functions, watch for the following symptoms:
- Unexplained or worsening aches and pains
- Fatigue or sleep changes
- Appetite or weight changes
- Trouble focusing
- Changes in appearance
- Feeling worthless, helpless or hopeless
- Feeling like a burden on family and friends
- Memory loss
- Social withdrawal
- Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
- Difficulty with numbers or finances
- Neglecting or forgetting to pay bills or take medication
Generally, these symptoms must last two weeks or longer for a proper diagnosis of depression.
If you notice these symptoms in a loved one, contact their doctor to discuss your concerns and next steps.
What are the risk factors for mental health problems in seniors?
Older adults often experience many life changes and physical changes that can contribute to or trigger depression and other mental health issues.
These risk factors include:
- Dementia or Alzheimer’s disease
- Loss of a loved one
- Chronic illness or pain
- Loneliness or social isolation
- Medication side effects
- Physical disability or other loss of mobility
- Substance abuse
- Poor diet
- Lack of movement or exercise
The good news is that recognizing the cause of your loved one’s mental health struggles can lead to a proper diagnosis and treatment.
How to improve mental health in seniors
The first step should be to take your loved one to their doctor to rule out any medical causes for their symptoms.
Their doctor can evaluate them and perform the necessary tests to determine whether their symptoms are caused by an untreated medical condition, or is a result of a medication side effect or other deficiency.
Once they are examined and receive a diagnosis, the doctor may refer your loved one to a mental health professional for further evaluation.
While there are treatments available, including talk therapy or certain medications, there are several healthy life changes your loved one can make to improve their overall mental health and wellbeing.
Stimulate the brain and body
Keeping the mind and body engaged helps us stay sharp as we age.
Brain exercises can include anything from word puzzles to reading and writing, while physical exercise involves any kind of movement your loved one enjoys.
Walking, biking, yoga, and dance are some enjoyable physical activities your loved one can participate in daily to reap the benefits.
Both brain and body exercise benefit mental health in numerous ways, as well as contribute to overall health and well-being.
Connect with others
Seniors who are struggling with their mental health often are less likely to reach out to friends and family, but keeping in touch can help with feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Take the first step by helping your loved one build a network of support through family or new social activities such as volunteering, joining a club, or finding a pen pal.
Find a new hobby
There are an unlimited amount of activities your loved one can choose as their new hobby.
Based on their unique interests, suggest some new activities to keep their mind strong and to help them discover a fresh purpose.
Consider these types of hobbies or learning opportunities:
- Learning a new language
- Joining a book club
- Knitting or crocheting
- Playing an instrument
Adopt a pet
A new furry friend can change your loved one’s life.
Consider adopting a pet such as a dog, cat or bird to keep your loved one company.
Having something to take care of, talk to, and provide love and affection can significantly boost a person’s mental health.
Focus on the basics: food and sleep
Above all else, make sure that your loved one is getting enough rest and eating a balanced diet full of fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats, as well as low in sugar, salt, and saturated fats.
These two basics can make a difference in the way they feel and move through their day.
Kensington Park Senior Living focuses on total wellbeing
We ensure our residents’ specific needs and preferences are met, and comforting routines are preserved.
Our team is committed to a holistic approach to care that focuses on social, emotional, and spiritual wellness as much as mental and physical.
To support the mental health of our residents, we encourage fun activities, social interaction, and alternative, creative modes of expression.
With a Promise to love and care for your family as we do our own, Kensington Park is committed to your loved one’s total wellbeing.
Contact us today to learn more about how we can provide your loved one with new purpose in a loving environment.