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Mental Health for Seniors: How to Identify Problems and Get Proper Care

Kimberley Fowler
By Kimberley FowlerSeptember 2, 2019
Mental Health for Seniors: How to Identify Problems and Get Proper Care

Recently, U.S. News reported that one in four adults aged 65 and older experience a mental health problem such as anxiety, depression, or schizophrenia. In addition, the National Council on Aging found that “people 85 and older have the highest suicide rate of any age group.” With startling statistics such as these, why are seniors not accessing more mental health resources?

If you are concerned about the mental health of a parent or a senior loved one, continue reading for more information on how your family can identify problems and receive proper care.

The Mental Health of Seniors Today

Seniors today are living healthier, longer lives. With a focus on healthy eating, fall prevention, and physical activity, baby boomers have access to more information than previous generations to help them live healthier lifestyles than ever before. Unfortunately, mental health is often left out of the public conversation, according to a U.S. News report.

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Seniors face a variety of unique barriers when it comes to addressing mental health concerns, including:

  • A dwindling supply of geriatric caregivers (as of 2030 there will be less than one geriatric specialist per 6,000 patients)
  • Complications related to prescribed medication for a pre-existing condition
  • Denial
  • High health care costs and lack of insurance coverage
  • Lack of transportation
  • Social isolation
  • The stigma of ageism, including negative attitudes and stereotypes

In addition to systemic barriers, many seniors may not recognize their own mental health issue or may chalk their feelings up to “old age.”

This is why it is so important for caregivers, family, and friends to monitor senior loved ones for changes and become comfortable with having a conversation about mental health.

Mental Health America has comprised the following list ofsigns and symptoms to watch out for in your senior loved one:

  1. Changes in energy; feeling tired all the time but having trouble sleeping, or sleeping too much.
  2. Difficulty carrying out daily activities for weeks at a time.
  3. Heavy use of alcohol or drugs.
  4. Increased sadness, stress, worry, or obsessing about minor problems.
  5. Irritability, or lashing out at others.
  6. Loss of interest in once pleasurable activities and hobbies.
  7. Noticeable changes in mood; feeling anxious, distant from others, empty, or flat.
  8. Trouble concentrating; feeling on edge or restless.

How to Get Proper Care

Assurance and comfort are often two necessary requirements for a senior seeking help for mental health issues. This is why many seniors feel most comfortable addressing concerns with a family physician.

U.S. News states that “more health systems across the country are merging mental health care into primary care visits, which older people are more likely to take advantage of […] older people are not going to go to a mental health center or a mental health provider, but they will more likely accept treatment from their primary care practitioner.”

Other supportive approaches such as connecting with peers through support groups, medication, and talk therapy, are great options to help address symptoms. As well, for family and friends, the simple act of calling or stopping by to “check-in” can do wonders in improving the mood of a struggling senior by reducing isolation and providing an outlet for them to discuss their feelings.

Mental health is important for people of all ages. If your parent or senior loved one is struggling or needs support, reach out to a family physician, or get immediate help through MentalHealth.gov.

Have you had any experience improving mental health for seniors? What steps did you take to support a parent or senior loved one? We’d like to hear your stories and tips in the comments below.

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Kimberley Fowler
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Kimberley Fowler

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