Mental Health and Aging

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that an estimated 20% of people aged 55 and older have had a concern involving their mental health, while on average only 2 out of 3 of people in this age group received treatment for the issue.

The regular physical effects of aging can make mental illness difficult to recognize, as the symptoms may appear related to physical health issues, medications, or may appear to seem like the normal effects of getting older. And often, elderly people are more prone to communicate a physical ailment than a mental one.

However, the World Health Organization determined that mental health disorders affect around 15% of people aged 60 and older, and this number will increase considerably as the population gets older. Mental disorders can also adversely affect the treatment of other health chronic conditions. Because good mental health is essential to overall wellness, it should be treated with the same urgency as physical wellness.

Certain physical or emotional issues can be the root cause of mental health conditions in the elderly. For example, physical ailments, chronic disease, or dealing with chronic pain can trigger mental illness. Certain medications, heavy alcohol use and/or a poor diet can contribute. And large life changes like widowhood, moving away from home, failing health, and dealing with grief and loneliness can affect mental wellness as well.

Possible Indicators of a Mental Health Issue

If you have an aging loved one or are a caregiver for an elderly person, here are some signs to watch for that could possibly indicate a possible issue with their mental health:

  • An increase in agitation, anger, moodiness, or aggressiveness
  • A noticeable change in behavior
  • A large change in appetite and energy
  • Difficulty in feeling happiness or experiencing positive emotions
  • Ignoring grooming and/or dressing
  • Sleeping too much or are not able to fall or stay asleep
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Self-medicating with drugs or alcohol
  • Trouble with short term memory or concentrating on tasks

If you notice any of these, it’s important to take steps to get help before the situation possibly worsens. Let the primary physician know of your concerns to help determine the next course of action to take.  There are mental health assessment tools, treatments, and therapies available to diagnose and successfully treat mental illness in older adults.