Minds Matter: Senior Mental Health

Jun 12, 2023

Our mental health is a crucial part of our well-being. It is made up of many component parts and it can also be impacted by a number of factors including living environment, stress, coping with challenges, and disease. Our bodies and minds are intimately connected and so our diet, exercise, social engagement, passion and creativity, all play a role in our overall well-being. It is crucial to be empowered advocates for the mental health of ourselves and others as we age.

While older adults are at a high risk for depression, it is not a normal part of aging. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, depression often accompanies individuals who suffer from limiting illnesses or chronic diseases. About 80% of older adults have at least one chronic health condition and 50% have two or more. Isolation can also be a contributing factor to depression as chronic illness or injuries may limit activities outside of the home.

While embarrassment or fear may keep an individual from talking about depression, it is crucial to seek help. Many people experience depression during periods in their life and it is important to not see your current quality of life as a permanent state. Therapy, exercise, community support, and medications are all tools for treating depression and increasing your quality of life. Depression can easily be missed in older adults as the symptoms can be confused with understandable reactions to limiting diseases or side effects to other medications such as: fatigue, irritability, pessimism, insomnia, change in appetite, and persistent aches or pains. It is crucial to advocate for your aging loved ones and make sure these symptoms are mentioned during doctor visits. A depression screening may help your doctor correctly prescribe the appropriate regimen and/or medication.

Just like depression, Dementia is not a normal part of aging. It is actually a brain disease that affects behavior, emotions, language, and all basic functions. Dementia is really an umbrella term for several types of brain disease, including Alzheimer’s disease, which is the most common form. While we tend to think of dementia just “memory problems” or “forgetfulness” dementia is far from it. It is the 6 th leading cause of death in the United States and currently does not have a cure. The inevitable decline of individuals with the disease means that they will need specialized care as their disease progresses to maintain safety and connection.  


Aging Adults with a Psychological Diagnosis
For adults who have lived their lives with a psychological diagnosis, it is important that appropriate support and care be found to maintain quality of life as they age. For example, an individual with a diagnosis of bi-polar disorder or schizophrenia may be able to manage their disease well through proper treatments; however as they age, they may need more support and monitoring to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Changes in body chemistry or side-effects from additional medications can cause individuals with a variety of mental illnesses to exhibit new symptoms and get off of their regular routine that works for them. It is crucial that professionals and family give compassionate attention to see changes from an individual’s norms.  

Those aging adults who have served in the military may suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress syndrome due difficult experiences during their active duty. Difficult behaviors may signal a larger issue and it is important that care providers pay compassionate attention and proactively seek professional help. Finding outlets for stories is a crucial component to mental health and community building for senior veterans. It is also important to make sure that aging veterans are aware of and using their full benefits.