Seniors and Mental Health

According to the World Health Organization, many seniors are at risk of developing mental or neurological disorders. These risks can sometimes occur at the same time as other health conditions such as diabetes, hearing loss, and osteoarthritis.
  • Globally, the population is aging rapidly. Between 2015 and 2050, the proportion of the world’s population over 60 years will nearly double, from 12% to 22%.
  • Mental and neurological disorders among older adults account for 6.6% of the total disability for this age group.
  • Approximately 20% of adults aged 60 and over suffer from a mental or neurological disorder.

Mental health problems are under-identified by health-care professionals and older people themselves, and the stigma surrounding these conditions makes people reluctant to seek help.

Risk Factors for Mental Health Problems Among Older Adults
In addition to common life stressors that affect people of all ages, seniors may experience other stressors such as a significant ongoing loss in capacities and a decline in functional ability. Examples include reduced mobility, chronic pain, frailty or other health problems. Older adults are also more likely to experience events such as bereavement and financial issues related to retirement.

Mental health and physical health go hand-in-hand when it comes to the overall well-being of a senior. For example, older adults with physical health conditions such as heart disease have higher rates of depression than those who are healthy. If left untreated, depression can lead to an increase in suicidal thoughts and an introverted personality.

Dementia is a syndrome, usually of a chronic or progressive nature, in which there is deterioration in memory, thinking, behavior and the ability to perform everyday activities. It mainly affects older people, although it is not a normal part of aging. There are significant social and economic issues in terms of the direct costs of medical, social and assisted living or memory care associated with dementia. Moreover, physical, emotional and economic pressures can cause great stress to families and caregivers.

Depression can cause great suffering and leads to impaired functioning in daily life. Depression in older adults is both underdiagnosed and undertreated in primary care settings. Symptoms are often overlooked and untreated because they co-occur with other problems encountered by the patient as they age.

Ways to Boost Mental Health Well-Being
Staying physically healthy, socially active, and mentally engaged as you age are keys to boosting senior mental health, experts agree. For instance:

1. Keep Moving
Go for a daily walk or join a senior exercise class at a nearby gym or senior center. If you have physical limitations, try chair exercises. If you’re physically able, try a dance class. A study published in August 2014 in the Journal of the American Medical Directors Association found that just one 60-minute dance class a week led to significant improvements in depression symptoms.

2. Socialize at Your Senior Center
Many senior centers offer a variety of activities such as crafts, computer classes, and Bunco.

3. Stay Involved in Family Gatherings
Find ways to be included and visit often with family, especially grandchildren. Keep visits short if you get tired and make sure you’re just there to enjoy their company rather than be a babysitter.

4. Call on Friends
Stay connected with your peers. Get your hair done together, go on a shopping trip even if it’s just to the grocery store, or have them over for dinner.

5. Turn to Technology to Stay in Touch
Schedule regular phone calls to catch up with loved ones, or email letters, cards, and photos. Try Skype or FaceTime for a video call.

6. Go Back to School
Challenge your brain by taking a class at your local community college; many are free or offered at a very low cost and some are held online.

7. Get a Pet
Whether you’re a dog person or a cat person, caring for a pet can be helpful. Animals make seniors more socially engaged, less depressed, and less agitated.

8. Play Games
Try word puzzles, crossword puzzles, jigsaw puzzles, and games like Sudoku to keep your brain healthy and stimulated.

9. Make a Deeper Spiritual Connection
Religion and the community that goes with it can offer meaningful activities and support, and your place of worship can also be a great venue for volunteering.

10. Make a Difference
Volunteering can be done both locally or by searching online for ways to volunteer from the comfort of your own home. For instance, the United Nations Volunteers program has opportunities across the world. Giving back can be one of the best ways to add meaning to your life. 

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