Mental health conditions like depression and anxiety have seen massive growth in terms of awareness and treatment accessibility. There have been major pushes to recognize the signs of mental illness in our youth as well as expand care for adults. Unfortunately, older adult mental health often remains unaddressed. Seniors stand as one of the most at-risk groups for depression, and yet the level of care they receive does not support that reality.
Facts About Older Adult Mental Health
Misconceptions about older adult mental health run rampant, both online and even in some clinical settings. Today, we at The Willough at Naples wish to discuss a few of the most important facts about senior mental health. It is our hope that by clearing any confusion and providing crucial details, more older adults will be able to get the mental health care they need.
1. Mental Illness Is Not a Normal Part of Aging
Some people believe that cognitive and mental decline are normal parts of aging. They think that as people age, they naturally encounter symptoms of mental illness. However, this is false. Mental health problems are still problems regardless of whether they appear in younger adults or older people.
Granted, it is normal for seniors to experience slowed reaction times and decreased problem-solving skills. That being said, it does not mean that older adult mental health should deteriorate as well. Healthy older adults are just as capable of maintaining happiness and learning new skills as younger people.
2. Mental Health Issues Are Common in Seniors
While they should not be treated as a normal, accepted part of aging, mental disorders are still fairly common in older adults. The CDC published a report discussing the “State of Mental Health and Aging in America,” and it found that over one in five seniors will experience a mental health issue in their older years.
Some of the most common older adult mental health problems include depression and anxiety. However, older adults may experience an assortment of other conditions as well, including bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and schizophrenia.
3. Most Older Adults Don’t Get Sufficient Mental Health Care
Despite how frequently they occur, many older adult mental health issues go untreated or misdiagnosed. Common symptoms of mental illness are often wrongly attributed to other conditions that someone may or may not actually have.
In fact, primary care physicians (who respond to the majority of senior mental health concerns) only recognize cases of depression in seniors less than half as often as they appear. Most mental illnesses can improve with treatment, so it is vital to correctly identify their presence in older adults.
4. Social Isolation Can Lead to Depression
One of the biggest contributors to older adult mental health struggles is social isolation. As people age, they become more likely to encounter grief. Friends and loved ones may pass away, and if the resulting gaps are not properly filled, it is very easy for the person left behind to feel lonely.
Sometimes, even those who find themselves surrounded by people still experience feelings of loneliness. Just like everyone else, older adults deserve to spend time with the people who they have genuine connections with. If they lose that contact, whether through death or a lack of visitation, they become much more susceptible to mental illnesses like depression.
5. Physical Health Problems Can Indicate Mental Illness
Many people don’t associate physical health issues with mental disorders, especially in older age, when many individuals see an increase in physical concerns. However, if someone experiences symptoms like muscle and joint pain, fatigue, or digestive problems, and there is no discernible cause for it, they may be exhibiting physical symptoms of mental illness.
In some ways, older adult mental health and physical health can reflect one another. It is crucial to regularly evaluate both and eliminate the possibilities of certain conditions. The sooner and more efficiently this is accomplished, the easier it becomes to identify the true source of someone’s pain, whether it is mental or physical in nature.
6. Exercise Helps Older Adult Mental Health
Exercise serves as a common “self-help” technique encouraged in individuals with depression and other mental health conditions. It not only benefits their physical health, but it triggers the brain’s reward system as well. Endorphins and dopamine, two chemicals associated with happiness, flood the body after exercise and provide those with depression a much-needed mood boost.
Many people become less active as they age, but older adults who remain physically active are much happier and healthier on average. Even occasional, low-impact exercises can greatly benefit older adult mental health. Moreover, the physical benefits of remaining active make it a worthwhile endeavor even if immediate results are not seen elsewhere.
7. Dementia and Depression Are Not Mutually Exclusive
It is not unusual for dementia and depression to go hand-in-hand, but it is important to remember that they are two separate conditions. The presence of one does not immediately indicate the presence of the other. On the other hand, someone can also have both at the same time and receive separate treatments.
The National Institute of Health cites “mood changes” as one of the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease. This has the greater impact of depression often being viewed as a symptom of dementia rather than as its own condition. As a result, depressive disorders can get swept under the rug when someone also exhibits other signs of dementia.
Older adult mental health as a whole benefits from taking all of someone’s symptoms seriously and being thorough during mental health evaluations. Showing vigilance toward all potential conditions increases the likelihood of someone getting the care they need to recover.
8. Older Adults Rarely Recognize Depression
Though there are numerous signs of depression in seniors, physicians are not the only ones to overlook them. Many older adults overlook depression as a possibility or downplay its severity due to lingering stigma against it.
Almost 70 percent of seniors report knowing very little about depression in general. Even when they do identify it, some prefer to keep it to themselves. They may feel as though they should be able to “deal with it” on their own, and that opening up about their struggles could make them look weak or like a failure.
In reality, none of those ideas about depression or other older adult mental health issues are true. Seeking treatment and utilizing mental health resources should only be viewed as the health-cognizant choice it is. It allows older adults to live out their later years with the happiness they deserve in their lives.
9. Seniors Have a High Risk of Suicide
Older adults make up approximately 12 percent of the United States population. Despite this, the Department of Health and Human Services warns that the senior demographic is at the highest risk of attempting suicide. To illustrate this, consider that older adults make up over 18 percent—or almost one in five—of national suicides.
Loneliness, chronic pain or illness, and a loss of independence can all contribute to a senior’s desire to attempt suicide. This proves that for an older adult, mental health care is more important than ever. Effective mental health services can identify signs of suicidal ideations and provide older adults with the care they need.
If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, please do not wait to reach out for help. Call or text the National Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 to get immediate assistance.
10. Older Adults Can Still Thrive
Getting older does not equate to sacrificing someone’s sense of happiness, adventure, or community. In fact, the state of older adult mental health tends to blossom when these needs continue to be met. Humans are social, curious creatures. Making connections and trying new hobbies helps them maintain joy in their lives well into their later years.
Similarly, someone’s age does not dictate whether they deserve help, or if it is too late to receive it. It is never too late to start prioritizing mental health. Reaching out for the mental health treatment someone needs is one of the best actions they can take for themself, no matter how old they are.
Older Adult Mental Health Care
The Willough at Naples is proud to offer an Older Adult Behavioral Care program to seniors living with mental health issues. Our tranquil facility provides the safety and structure many older adults need to fully engage with recovery.
Using treatment modalities like behavioral counseling, physical therapy, and medication management, we help our seniors develop key coping skills that allow them to manage their symptoms in healthy ways. We go on to support them as they reintegrate into their communities with a newfound sense of self and love for life.
If you have questions or concerns about our older adult mental health care, give us a call at 800-722-0100. If you need more time to collect your thoughts, you may also submit a confidential contact form instead.
Whether you are looking to help yourself or preparing to support a loved one, The Willough at Naples can provide the guidance you need. Please do not hesitate to reach out today.