The mental health of older Americans is becoming the focus of public health agencies because it impacts overall health and the ability to engage in life. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that mental health “must be recognized and treated with the same urgency as physical health”. It is essential care if an individual is to age well and avoid the ravages of depression, anxiety, and mental illness.
Although many older people report some type of mental health concern, the good news is that most seniors say they are happy with their lives. Statistics gathered through the CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, a survey conducted in all 50 states, provide the details of seniors’ mental health.
Twenty percent of people age 55 years or older experience some type of mental health concern.
- The most common conditions include anxiety, severe cognitive impairment, and mood disorders including depression or bipolar disorder
- Mental health issues are often implicated as a factor in cases of suicide
- Older men have the highest suicide rate of any age group
- Men aged 85 years or older have a suicide rate of 45.23 per 100,000, compared to an overall rate of 11.01 per 100,000 for all ages
- Women age 50 or older reported more current and lifetime diagnosis of depression than men
- 9% compared to 6.2% for current depressive symptoms
- 1% compared to 11.7% for lifetime diagnosis
However, this is balanced with the fact that most seniors report that they are happy with their lives.
- Nearly 95% of adults age 50 or older reported being “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their lives
- Only 9.2% of adults 50 or older report frequent mental distress
- Only 6.5% of adults 65 or older report frequent mental distress
That general sense of satisfaction may be an indication of expanding support and mental health services for older adults. Ninety percent of adults 50 or older report they are getting the support they need, like emotional support and information. It also includes lifestyle support like transportation and in-home assistance. These services can make all the difference in an individual feeling connected, supported, and independent, instead of isolated and unable to engage in life.
However, there is still work to be done to ensure that all seniors get the support they need. Not all seniors can access the right type of assistance. Those who say they “rarely or never” receive the social support they need include:
- Twelve percent of adults age 65 or older
- One-fifth of Hispanic and other minorities
- 11 percent of men over the age of 50
Mental health can be a slippery slope
Individuals who suffer from mental illness need support and treatment. If they don’t receive it the conditions may worsen and isolate them from others. Many types of mental illness, such as depression, can be successfully treated. However, diagnosing these conditions in seniors can be especially challenging. Many concentrate on reporting physical ailments and are reticent to discuss how they feel mentally and emotionally.
Seniors can be resistant to getting treatment for mental health issues. They may believe they can “get over it” by themselves. They may fear that a diagnosis of mental illness will result in them being removed from their homes. Yet others may feel there is a stigma attached to discussing mental health issues. For these reasons, it often falls on close family members to observe a loved one’s behavior.. If you know the risk factors and symptoms of depression, you can identify them early and intervene to get effective treatment
The risk factors for depression and other types of mental illness include:
- Physical illness
- Impaired functional status, physical, emotional or cognitive
- Heavy alcohol use
- Low education of grades less than high school (impairs ability/knowledge to find support)
Signs & symptoms of mental illness
If your senior loved one exhibits any of the following signs, keep track of how long they exhibit the symptoms. If it is more than a couple of days, seek help. Some of the symptoms of depression include:
- Persistent sadness
- Withdrawal from previously enjoyed activities
- Refusal to join social activities
- Inability to concentrate
- Difficulty sleeping
- Physical discomfort, aches and pains without any diagnosed cause
The majority of seniors want to live active engaged lives. Mental health issues should not be allowed to pose an obstacle to achieving that goal. Seeking treatment will help to ensure that your loved one does not fall victim to the anxiety and depression and can remain healthy physically, emotionally, and mentally.
If you or your family member is considering in-home care as part of a plan to age in place, contact Family Matters In-Home Care today for a free consultation. Our team is dedicated to supporting your family and helping older adults enjoy life in the comfort of their own home for as long as possible.
Some of the services offered by Family Matter In-Home Care include: Alzheimer’s & Dementia Care, Bed & Wheelchair Transfer Assistance, Companionship, Housekeeping & Meal Preparation, Personal Care, Recovery Care, and Transportation.