Mental Health in Older Adults
In a recent briefing from the Center for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) in partnership with the National Association of Chronic Disease Directors, it is estimated that 20% of people age 55 years or older experience some type of mental health concern. Many people assume that increased depression is a normal part of aging, but this is simply NOT TRUE!
Truth be told, there are many myths surrounding aging and mental health, so we are going to debunk all of these myths right here, right now…
(click the “Myth” and then the corresponding “Reality”)
While older adults tend to feel more isolated and alone which can lead to feelings of sadness or depression, this is not a normal part of aging. If you are feeling isolated and lonely, it is a good idea to get a part-time job, volunteer your time or get more involved with your community to increase your opportunities for socialization. You can never meet too many people or have too many friends! If you are still feeling depressed, you should address this concern with your doctor so you can work towards a solution that is best for you.
Not true! Life changes and with these changes comes unfamiliar territory that can have a negative impact on your overall mental health- even if you never struggled with mental health before. Per the Substance Abuse & Metal Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 1 in 5 American adults experienced a mental health condition in a given year so if you are struggling, you are not alone!
At some point, though some are more severe than others, everyone has experienced some sort of mental health struggle. Prevention of mental, behavioral, and emotional issues requires addressing known risk factors like exposure to trauma, situational triggers, and exploring the root cause of certain feelings. For these reasons and many more, speaking to a licensed therapist can be helpful in working through mental conditions and preventing them in the future.
Older adults need the same amount of sleep as all adults- 7 to 9 hours a night. As people age, they may find themselves having a harder time falling and staying asleep but a good night’s sleep is crucial to overall wellness and promotes mental clarity/improvements in mood!
False! Your presence matters and never underestimate the significance of a simple good deed! Friends and loved ones can make a big difference in elevating someone’s mood and they can also be important influences to help someone to seek treatment and needed services. Many people just need to feel heard and understood so just a simple phone call can truly have such a positive impact!
Experiencing a mental issue and working through it does not mean someone is lazy or weak. Mental struggles can be due to biological factors and family history, past and current life experiences (such as developing a new illness, dealing with grief and loss or past trauma such as physical abuse or substance abuse) or a change in brain chemistry which could indicate early onset of dementia in some cases. The worst thing you can do to support someone who has a mental health issue is say “get over it” or “snap out of it” as this invalidates their feelings and can increase their anxiety level. Instead, just listen compassionately and encourage them to seek help from a medical professional as that is the best way you can help them, and they can help themselves.
Even though the risk of dementia grows as people age, dementia is not a normal part of aging. Occasional forgetfulness is normal we all forget where our keys are or what we wanted at the store, but if you do not recognize what the key is for, or where the store is…. Then discuss these with a medical professional. Dementia not only alters the brain’s way of thinking, but it also can manifest itself as a change in personality. If you notice in yourself or someone else that there has been a significant and unusual change in mood or general personality, this is another key indicator to speak with your doctor as this may not be depression and could be a sign of early onset dementia.
You’re never too old to learn a new skill! Our thinking changes as we age but the ability to learn new things and improve skills still exists and anything is possible! Learning something new will also help you feel accomplished and feel as though you have discovered a new-found purpose.
Regardless of whether you have a chronic condition or not, staying active is so important to your overall and mental health. Safety is a priority, and you don’t want to push yourself to do something you can’t do safely. Just walking a few extra steps or doing chair yoga is a great way to get in your exercise for the day.
You have control over who you are, what you believe, how you act and the life you want to live. If you are not happy with your life, only you have the power to change it. If you see a pattern of behavior in yourself that you don’t like- change it! Want to do something differently than you have been- do it! While this all sounds easier said than done (and it is), you can harness the power over your own life and decisions and regular sessions with a therapist can be a positive catalyst to you living the fulfilled life you’ve dreamed of. Therapy helps with self-exploration and identifying behavioral patterns and emotional triggers that may have set you back in the past and prevented you from realizing your true potential. THERAPY & SELF-HELP IS AN INVESTMENT IN YOURSELF AND NEVER A WASTE OF TIME!
If you or someone you know needs help, ABC Home Healthcare Professionals, your local Council on Aging, your local elder services agency and the following resources are available to you:
National Institute of Mental Health
988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline
988 or 800-273-8255 (24/7)