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MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES IN OLDER ADULTS

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Common mental health issues for the older adults and what you can do to support them

Poor mental health can affect people of all ages. However, our older loved ones can be particularly susceptible to mental health problems due to several factors. In this article, we’ll cover which mental health issues older people are most at risk from and what types of care and support they may need if they are experiencing mental health challenges.

Is mental ill health common in later life?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), around 14% of adults over the age of 60 experience mental health challenges. Whilst ageing doesn’t mean a loved one will definitely experience poor mental health, it’s certainly not uncommon (although it may be less talked about).

There are specific vulnerabilities that older adults face that can increase their risk of developing a mental health problem. These include health problems such as reduced mobility and chronic pain, social isolation and loneliness, stresses from reduced income, reduced sense of purpose post-retirement and an increased occurrence of loss and bereavement.

Which mental health issues affect the older adults?

The most common mental health conditions that older individuals face are depression and anxiety disorders.

Depression can be triggered by factors such as chronic illness, loss of loved ones, or social isolation. Anxiety Disorders such as generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, or phobias can be exacerbated by health concerns or life changes.

Other conditions which can contribute to mental ill health

  • Dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, is a progressive neurocognitive disorder that primarily affects older adults, leading to memory loss, impaired reasoning and changes in behaviour. The distress that the condition can cause can contribute to poor mental health.
  • Loneliness and social isolation: Many older individuals struggle with feelings of loneliness and social isolation, which can negatively impact mental health and wellbeing, contributing to conditions like depression and anxiety.
  • Bereavement and grief: The loss of a spouse, family member, or friend can trigger profound grief and mourning in older adults, leading to depressive symptoms and feelings of loneliness.
  • Substance abuse, including alcohol and prescription medication misuse, can occur among older individuals, often as a coping mechanism for dealing with pain, stress, or emotional distress.
  • Sleep disorders such as insomnia and other sleep conditions are common among older adults, often due to changes in sleep patterns, medical conditions, or medication side effects, which can exacerbate existing mental health issues.

What types of care and treatment are available

If you think a loved one may be experiencing issues with their mental health, encouraging them to speak to their doctor, nurse or care assistant is an essential first step. GPs can prescribe any necessary medication and signpost other therapeutic services.

Here are some of the treatment and support options that are available to older adults:

Medication

There are a range of medications available to treat the symptoms of low mood, anxiety and depression. A medical professional will be able to talk through the options with you and your loved one.

Therapy

Talking therapies can be beneficial for older individuals struggling with mental health problems. The NHS offers several forms of talking therapy (and private options are available, too). A healthcare professional can assess which type of therapy would be best for your loved one and refer them to an appropriate service.

Types of talking therapy include

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) aims to help individuals look at and change how they think and behave. It can be helpful for those stuck in a negative mindset or have negative thoughts, beliefs and behaviours, as it works on the principle that these can affect how we feel.
  • Counselling is talking therapy that creates a safe space to discuss problems and feelings. Trained counsellors will listen and empathise. They won’t give advice but can support and guide those with negative thoughts and feelings.
  • Interpersonal therapy (IPT) or dynamic interpersonal therapy (DIT) are therapies that look at the link between depression and an individual’s relationships. Older adults are still at risk of struggling with their mental health due to the cumulative effects of their life experiences and personal relationships.

Support groups

As older adults are particularly susceptible to the impact of loneliness and social isolation, support groups can be a great option, both for the therapeutic and social benefits. These are typically available in person, but online and over-the-phone options may also be available.

Home-based support

A home care provider can offer all types of support to your loved one if they’re struggling with their mental health. They can provide practical help with tasks like taking medication, ensuring the home is clean and tidy and cooking healthy meals. They can also offer companionship care to support an individual’s mental and physical wellbeing.

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