The Silent Epidemic: Mental Health Issues In Older Citizens

The deterioration of mental health in the older population is a pressing prevalence often overlooked by society because more apparent physical health issues mask it.

The silent epidemic is a fitting description of diseases such as depression, anxiety, dementia, and late-onset schizophrenia, which stem from a lack of adequate mental support and pose unique challenges for the senior citizens of our community. 

Mental health profoundly influences an older adult’s overall quality of life and their ability to engage in daily activities, maintain relationships, and enjoy their later years.

A United Healthcare therapist can formulate tailored mental health programs you and your loved ones can benefit from in old age. 

Continue reading this article to learn about the mental health issues faced by the older generations of our society, the challenges associated with their adequate diagnosis, and the steps you can take to address and manage these conditions effectively.

Prevalence Of Mental Health Issues In The Elderly

According to statistics, around 14% of the population aged above 60 suffer from some form of mental illness.

Depression is one of the most common mental health problems in older adults. Other prevalent mental health challenges faced by older adults include:

  • Affective and anxiety disorders
  • Psychosis
  • Dementia
  • Insomnia
  • Cognitive disorders
  • Schizophrenia
  • Eating disorders
  • Delirium
  • Alzheimer’s disease

Mental conditions in older adults are severely underreported. This can be associated with the societal stigma surrounding mental disorders in general and particularly the conditions of the elderly.

Senior individuals also feel reluctant to openly discuss their mental health because they believe these symptoms are part of the usual effects of aging.

This can lead to the increased prevalence of mental health in older people.

Unique Factors Contributing To Elderly Mental Health Issues

Some of the main reasons behind these issues are:

1. Physical Health Deterioration

Physical and mental health are directly interconnected; this bidirectional relationship becomes increasingly intricate as a person ages.

Individuals grappling with chronic physical conditions, such as diabetes or cardiovascular diseases, often experience heightened stress and anxiety due to the constant struggle to manage these conditions.

Likewise, persistent pain in different ailments can lead to deteriorating mental health. Managing pain becomes crucial not only for physical relief, but also to restore mental well-being.

2. Medications

The medications prescribed for the management of the diseases prevalent in old age can directly influence the state of your mental health.

Commonly prescribed pain-relievers, opioids may cause drowsiness, confusion, and mood alterations, leading to depression or the exacerbation of existing mental disorders.

Beta-blockers are drugs prescribed for different cardiovascular diseases and can lead to fatigue, sleep disturbances, and vivid dreams, impacting an individual’s overall mental well-being.

The side effects of corticosteroids prescribed for inflammatory conditions include irritability, anxiety, and, in some cases, more severe psychiatric reactions such as psychosis.

Antihistamines and other anticholinergic drugs can have adverse effects like cognitive impairment and memory issues, affecting mental clarity and overall cognitive function, especially in older people.

3. Social Isolation

In today’s modern world of technological advancement, the use of social media has had a significant effect on our social relationships.

Technologically isolated groups like older people have been socially isolated from the rest of the world as more people prefer to engage on social media platforms for communication. 

Additionally, the change in family structures in the modern world means youngsters are moving out as soon as they become young adults, and people are shifting their elderly family members to old-age care facilities.

The social isolation related to our modern lifestyles has been directly linked to the declining mental well-being of older people.

The absence of social engagement and emotional support can contribute to feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and a general decline in mental health. 

Your family is your primary mental support network, and their absence can put you at risk of conditions like Alzheimer’s disease associated with cognitive deterioration, heightened anxiety, feelings of vulnerability, fear, and stress.

4. Grief In Late Life

Significant losses often mark late life, each carrying its weight regarding emotional impact.

Retirement is a cessation of a life-long career path and can be met with feelings of considerable loss for older people.

The deterioration of physical health and decreased mobility can have you depending increasingly on other people, evoking feelings of vulnerability and grief associated with the independence of old age.

Additionally, the passing away of your close friends and peers can result in profound grief and loneliness.

Dealing with the cumulative effect of multiple losses can lead to persistent grief, and older people may find it challenging to adapt.

This can result in the development or exacerbation of mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, and a sense of hopelessness.

Addressing Mental Health In The Elderly

The early detection of mental health conditions in the elderly should be promoted to ensure timely intervention and support.

It’s essential to increase public awareness about the symptoms and complications of mental disorders.

Similarly, integrating mental health assessment into routine health examinations for older adults is also necessary. 

Social engagement can be encouraged by forming community programs and arranging support groups and recreational events for older adults in the local community centers.

You can partner with local caregiving services to ensure accessibility for those with mobility challenges.

Treatment plans for older people should be tailored to provide a holistic approach to simultaneously addressing mental and physical health.

Include information on coping strategies, lifestyle modifications, and available support resources.

Endnote

Recognizing the unique challenges associated with the mental health of the older population will help us tailor interventions that promote mental well-being in the elderly population.

By implementing these strategies, communities and healthcare systems can contribute to a more comprehensive and supportive approach to addressing mental health in older adults, fostering improved well-being and quality of life for this population.

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