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Mental Health Issues Among Seniors

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Older Adults Are Being Overlooked When It Comes To Mental Heath Care. 

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Most people donít know that suicide rates are alarming high among seniors. In 2019, suicide rates were the highest among seniors aged 85 years or older. This means seniors are battling mental health issues more than any other age group, but many are not receiving treatment for it.

According to the World Health Organization, approximately 15-20% of adults aged 60 and over suffer from a mental disorder, yet it often goes unnoticed. Here are some reasons why.

Seniors donít talk about it or unwilling to be treated

Many of the older generation were raised in an era where mental health problems were not acknowledged or treated. Instead, it was viewed as something shameful and hidden or ignored.

Some continue to carry a negative stigma around mental health and are too embarrassed to talk about it. Others donít want to burden anyone, or fear being sent to nursing homes. So, they hide their symptoms or isolate themselves.

Itís assumed that depression is a normal part of aging

By the time people reach their senior years, their spouse and some of their friends may have already passed. Grief and loneliness may set in. Deteriorating health and mobility may rob them of their independence, leading to feelings of despair and depression.

Given all the challenges that come with aging, society sees it is normal for older persons to become a little depressed, anxious or grumpy. We assume that they will adjust to the changes in their lives. But some never do and simply suffer in silence.

Thatís why the healthcare sector needs to prioritize senior mental health care and make it more accessible to older persons.

Mental health symptoms in seniors can be missed

An older person experiencing cognitive decline can show signs of memory loss, forgetfulness, irritability, disorientation and anger. Itís easy for symptoms like these to be dismissed as a normal part of old age or misdiagnosed as early-stage Alzheimerís, a common condition among the elderly. This leads us to the next point.

Doctors tend to focus more on physical health

One of the reasons mental health conditions are often missed in seniors is a lack of awareness among primary health care professionals. Some are not adequately trained to differentiate between physical and mental health conditions in their older patients.

Doctors and nurses tend to focus on their older patientís physical health and mobility issues, often overlooking their mental health. If they do notice signs of depression, they may attribute it to the person feeling down or frustrated about their physical condition.

Even if the depression is related to physical challenges, the elderly person still needs help overcoming their depression. Doctors should encourage patients to seek mental health counseling. Geriatric mental health counselors understand the unique challenges the elderly face, including feelings of fear or anxiety around ill health and their mortality.

Friends and family are too busy to notice

Seniors who live alone may not receive visitors regularly. Friends and family are often caught up in their busy lives, visiting occasionally and hurriedly. They may fail to notice that the individual is struggling mentally or assume that the person is coping.

If you have an elderly parent living on their own, try to visit more often and pay attention to their demeanor. Remember, they may try to hide their struggles and appear cheerful. Thatís why itís important to look for clues that your parents need help.

Have they lost weight? This could indicate theyíve lost interest in eating. Is their once tidy home now messy? Is their appearance dishevelled or unkempt? Have they stopped socializing with friends or engaging in their normal activities?

These are signs that could indicate a physical problem or an undiagnosed mental health condition. Have them evaluated by a healthcare professional as soon as possible.

Limited financial means to pay for mental health care

For seniors living on a modest income or who do not have health insurance, paying for therapy or counseling may be out of reach. There are other options for seniors in need of mental health services, such as:

  • Reaching out to their church if pastoral counseling is available.
  • Joining Medicare, a federally funded healthcare program for low-income seniors 65 years and older. Medicare covers mental health services. A nominal co-payment may be required.
  • Seniors in Texas can visit the Mental Health TX website to find a counselor in their area or chat to a Lifeline counselor.
As people live longer, we expect to see greater numbers of elderly persons worldwide. By 2050, itís predicted that the world's older population will almost double from about 12% to 22%, increasing from 900 million to around two billion people. Hopefully, by then, mental health care for seniors will no longer be overlooked and undertreated.


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