Seniors and Mental Health: Ignoring it will not fix the problem
Physical and mental health go hand in hand. You cannot focus on one and ignore the other. If we understand how our physical health changes over time and how it can affect our emotions and mental health, we may better understand what our seniors are experiencing. But it doesn’t and shouldn’t stop at only physical health changes—this article covers other factors to pay attention to.
As we age, we face new challenges. We may become less independent, feel more lonely and isolated, and experience new health issues. All of these aspects can affect our mental health. Our seniors’ mental health could often be overlooked or unidentified since depression mimics possible parts of aging (decreased energy, increased sleeping, loneliness).
But aging should not be synonymous with mental health issues—and mental health issues in seniors shouldn’t be normalized.
How do changes in seniors’ lives affect their mental health?
Seniors are experiencing many considerable changes that may not be obvious to us, such as:
Grief is a natural process (although a very uncomfortable one) that people of all ages experience when they lose someone or something important to them. Losing a loved one can be difficult at any age, but it can be especially difficult for seniors. For many older adults, the death of a spouse or close friend marks the end of an era. It can also lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness and a blurred sense of purpose. Seniors may find it harder to express their feelings and may have difficulty concentrating, lose their appetite, have disrupted sleeping patterns, and experience headaches and muscle pains.
Retirement is a journey that differs from one person to another. While some have planned for retirement, others see retirement as a loss of purpose in life. The ability to retire may not be an option for some seniors, while others may discover that retirement is everything they imagined.
In many cases, work isn’t just about earning potential but also about connectedness, purpose, and self-esteem. Losing something meaningful in life induces a sense of loss. After retiring from their careers, seniors must now learn and understand their identity without their jobs and titles. Additionally, retirees risk losing contact with those they were used to talking with regularly about topics they could relate to.
As we age, our physical abilities change. Seniors may find that they are not as strong as they used to be and may tire more easily. They may also lose flexibility and balance, making them more susceptible to falls. Additionally, seniors may experience changes in their vision and hearing. These changes can make it challenging to stay active and independent. But the good news is, there are many ways to stay healthy and active as we age. Regular exercise can help to maintain strength, flexibility, and balance.
Financial insecurity is a major problem for seniors in the United States. According to a recent study, nearly one in three seniors lives in poverty.
You read that right. Economic insecurity affects one in three seniors with incomes below 200% of the federal poverty level.
As the cost of living rises and Social Security benefits remain stagnant, this is expected to continue. Unfortunately, financial insecurity can have a serious impact on seniors’ health. It can lead to higher stress and anxiety levels, which can contribute to chronic health problems. Additionally, seniors struggling to make ends meet are often forced to make tough choices between paying for basic necessities like food and medicine. As a result, financial insecurity can have a profound impact on seniors’ physical and mental health.
With physical changes, many seniors start taking medications. And as they age, their medications may change—but so do the side effects. Some medications have worse side effects than others. Some symptoms are lightheadedness, irritability, weakness, and appetite loss. Seniors who experience unwanted side effects should speak to their doctor about their medications, their symptoms, and their options immediately.
Everybody feels lonely at times, but seniors feel it longer and differently. As they get older, they experience a lot of loneliness. It is especially difficult for them when they feel as if they have nothing left to do when they retire, experience the death of a loved one, or are taken care of by others. Loneliness should not be neglected. Several health risks are associated with loneliness, including depression and poor physical health.
The goal for every person is to stay independent for as long and safely as possible. Physical and mental changes can lead to a loss of independence, as seniors may no longer be able to drive, cook for themselves, or even care for their own personal hygiene. While these changes can be difficult to adjust to, it is important to remember that there are still many ways to help our seniors maintain a sense of independence.
Seniors are increasingly affected by mental health disorders
The prevalence of mental health disorders among seniors is a growing concern. With an aging population, the number of seniors living with mental health disorders is expected to rise. Mental health disorders can have a profound impact on seniors, causing them to suffer from isolation, anxiety, depression, and even suicidal thoughts. If you suspect that a senior in your life is suffering from a mental health disorder, contact a medical professional immediately. Do not wait. There are many resources available to those who need them, and with proper treatment, seniors can look forward to and live happy and fulfilling golden years as some of their best years.