Mental Health Issues in Seniors: NOT a Normal Part of Aging

Mental Health Issues in Seniors

Over the past few years, an increasing number of people—from everyday citizens to athletes and celebrities—have fearlessly disclosed information about the status of their mental health. Going public in this way has contributed to destigmatizing common issues like anxiety and depression and has encouraged many people who need help to reach out for it. So why, then, do the majority of senior citizens with mental health issues continue to suffer in silence and fail to seek the treatment they need?

Interestingly, the medical journal, International Psychogeriatrics, published a study that investigated the various barriers older adults faced in getting the help they need. The researchers found that one of the key beliefs held by the participants (aged 60-79) was that feeling depressed and anxious during their golden years was normal. It turns out this assumption is widely held by many people in the older generations.

Many older people believe that it’s normal to feel anxious or depressed during their golden years, but in reality, mental health issues are NOT a normal part of aging. It’s never too late to seek help or to feel better. Click To Tweet

The reality is, mental health issues are NOT a normal part of aging, yet when they occur, doctors commonly overlook them, or the symptoms are not disclosed by the millions of baby boomers and beyond who have them. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 1 out of every 5 people over the age of 55 has some type of mental health condition, the most common of which include bipolar disorder, anxiety, cognitive problems, and depression. And sadly, elderly men (age 85 and up) have the highest rate of suicide in the U.S.—45.23 per 100,000 versus 11 per 100,000 in the general population.

COMMON LIFE CHALLENGES FOR SENIORS

There’s no question that aging can pose challenges that increase the risk of mental health issues for some people and make them more vulnerable to conditions like depressive disorder, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, and other problems. In addition, difficulties such as the following ones can stack up and exacerbate already burdensome situations.

  • Accumulated losses, such as the death of a spouse/partner, family members, close friends, or beloved pets
  • Serious medical problems, illnesses, or chronic pain that affect mobility, activities, and independence—as well as one’s sense of self
  • Social isolation—nearly 14 million people over the age of 65 live alone
  • Poverty or other financial stressors that stem from living on a fixed income or the diminishment of other resources
  • Forced retirement due to problems with job performance or difficulty finding work because of age discrimination
  • Feeling invisible in a culture that is largely focused on the beauty and energy of younger people
  • Lost sense of purpose and meaning in life

There’s no question that all these issues are serious concerns that can have a devastating impact on mental well-being. But when this occurs—and regardless of age—a correct diagnosis and a targeted treatment plan can make a significant impact, not only on reducing symptoms but also in improving the quality of a person’s life. Unfortunately, the majority of older people who struggle with impairing symptoms never get diagnosed, and therefore, never receive the treatment that could make their life so much more fulfilling.

One study published in Psychiatric Services found that approximately 70% of seniors who had anxiety and mood disorders never sought help for their mental health issues. There are also many older folks who don’t believe they can change at their age or don’t think it’s possible to feel better simply by talking to a professional about their problems. Research, however, has shown otherwise. For example, in a randomized controlled trial conducted with people aged 60 and older who had co-occurring anxiety and depression, the participants actively engaged in 11 weeks of group cognitive behavioral therapy, a type of psychotherapy. This resulted in not only a significant improvement of symptoms but also the relief the participants experienced happened relatively quickly and was sustained over time.

MENTAL HEALTH AND COGNITIVE DECLINE OR DEMENTIA

A wealth of research shows that mental health problems, such as bipolar disorder and ADD/ADHD, significantly increase the risk of memory problems. Increased forgetfulness, feeling mentally foggy, and problems with concentration may signal the emergence of cognitive decline that can lead to Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia. This is understandably a big concern for many people, although the vast majority are not going to succumb to neurodegenerative disease.

Cognitive problems can also arise from mental health issues like depression that have never been treated. When this is the case, a person may get diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or a related condition, when in fact they have what is called pseudodementia. Just like it sounds, it’s not dementia at all but rather another condition masquerading as it. Unfortunately, without actually looking at the brain with a technology like brain SPECT imaging that is utilized at Amen Clinics most doctors would not be able to discern the difference based on symptoms alone. For example, an elderly person who has become very forgetful and distracted appears unkempt, is no longer interested in social interactions or talking much could likely get diagnosed with dementia—which is not curable—when the real cause of symptoms is depression, a condition for which there are many treatment possibilities.

It’s not necessary to suffer like that.

AGE IS NOT A BARRIER TO MENTAL HEALTH TREATMENT

Reaching out for help at any time in life is not an indication of weakness or failure; it’s a sign of courage. Mental health issues are actually brain problems—not character flaws or personal shortcomings—and once they are correctly identified strategies can be undertaken to help bring the brain into greater balance, no matter how old you are.

Whether someone is age 5 or 105, the right diagnosis and an optimal treatment plan for resolving mental health symptoms make all the difference in the world for being able to function well and enjoy life more.

You’re never too old to start feeling better again.

Anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.

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