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Caring for the Mental Health Needs of Seniors

Updated: Dec 31, 2021

Americans are obsessed with being young. It's no secret that we are wasting billions of dollars a year on creating, maintaining, and chasing after the look and experience of youth. We have all sorts of made up stories about what it means to be young, and conversely, what it means to age. We are typically fearful of the effects of aging, and have a difficult time appreciating the benefits and wisdom of the golden years.

While this may seem normal to us, this is not how all countries and cultures treat their aging adults. In fact, many cultures revere and honor their elderly population, and associate them with wisdom and leadership. The elderly are cared for and treated differently in many places in the world, and are often sought after for counsel, support, and active engagement with the community.

Older adults have an incredible amount of skill, experience, and wisdom to bring to the table in our communities. At Grit Therapy, we believe in honoring the years in a person's life. We are also aware that mental health in aging adults is just as important as it is in young and middle aged people. Seniors have their own set of risk factors related to mental health that deserve attention and skilled cared from professionals.

Consider the following statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO):

  • Globally, the population is ageing rapidly. Between 2015 and 2050, the proportion of the world’s population over 60 years will nearly double, from 12% to 22%.

  • Mental health and well-being are as important in older age as at any other time of life.

  • Mental and neurological disorders among older adults account for 6.6% of the total disability (DALYs) for this age group.

  • Approximately 15% of adults aged 60 and over suffer from a mental disorder.

Additionally, the CDC states:

"It is estimated that 20% of people age 55 years or older experience some type of mental health concern. The most common conditions include anxiety, severe cognitive impairment, and mood disorders (such as depression or bipolar disorder)...Depression, a type of mood disorder, is the most prevalent mental health problem among older adults. It is associated with distress and suffering. It also can lead to impairments in physical, mental, and social functioning.

The presence of depressive disorders often adversely affects the course and complicates the treatment of other chronic diseases. Older adults with depression visit the doctor and emergency room more often, use more medication, incur higher outpatient charges, and stay longer in the hospital."

Risk Factors: Seniors have a unique set of risks factors that affect their mental health including:

  • Isolation: Many older adults have less interaction with their friends and family than they did when they were younger.

  • Restricted mobility and ability: As bodies age, and illness becomes more common, the elderly can be restricted in their ability to transport themselves and engage in activities.

  • Decrease in income: Many retired adults operate on a decreased income compared to their income when they were working.

  • Decrease in satisfying and rewarding activities including hobbies and career: The loss of identity and satisfaction that can accompany retirement can have a profound affect on a person's sense of self and mental health.

  • Loss of loved ones: Many of our older adults survive their spouses and friends, leading to loneliness, isolation, depression, and anxiety.

  • Health issues and chronic pain: As health issues increase with age, seniors can experience anxiety and depression associated with their declining health and chronic pain.

What can be done: Much can be done to honor and support the older adults in our lives including:

  • Increased social support: Increasing social interactions and social events can support mental health and wellbeing, and help ward off loneliness and even illness.

  • Modified activity: We can help our seniors continue to engage in their favorite activities by finding ways to modify the activity to account for limited mobility or health concerns.

  • Support for caregivers: Caregivers of the elderly need their own support and education to help them best care for older adults, and manage their own mental health needs. Educating caregivers can help increase early detection of depression, anxiety, and addiction issues.

  • Support for physical health: We are understanding more and more about the mind body connection. Taking care of the physical health needs of our seniors will help them maintain their mental health as well.

  • Connection with resources: Many communities have wonderful resources for seniors that can help them stay connected, mobile, and active. In Summit County, CO, our seniors can connect with the Summit County Senior Center for a host of activities, resources, and support.

  • Technology: Technology can go a long way in keeping our older adults connected to family and friends, and resources in their community. With minimal help, seniors can get connected and enjoy the benefits of FaceTime, internet resources, and entertainment.

  • Early detection: As is true with all mental health concerns, early detection improves recovery outcomes. Pay attention to any warning signs that the older adults in your life may be experiencing depression, anxiety, addiction issues, or other mental health issues.

  • Support from a mental health professional: Many therapists are trained to work specifically with the unique issues of aging and older adults. Finding a therapist to help you support yourself or a senior that you love can provide relief, comfort, and healing.

If you or a loved one feels that you would benefit from talking with a therapist, call us today and schedule a free consultation. We are now accepting Medicare to help support the seniors in Summit County and surrounding areas.

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