As we age, many things can change. From our appetite to the elasticity of our skin, our body and personality can alter. One thing that many individuals might overlook is one’s mental health as we get older.
According to the World Health Organization, 15% of adults who are 60 years old, or older, are living with a mental health disorder.
The different types of mental health disorders vary as some are more of a hindrance than others. Some common mental health disorders that affect the aging population are as follows:
- Substance Abuse
As the aging population gets closer to their elder years, increased forgetfulness or personality changes can make one believe they are suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s. While confusion and memory loss is common among the elderly, it is also easy to misdiagnose. Since we assume that our elders will begin to forget things as they age, we might attribute it to aging instead of something serious like dementia.
If you believe your loved one might have dementia or Alzheimer’s, it is important to take them to a medical professional for a proper diagnosis. While dementia cannot be prevented, certain actions can help prevent the onset till a later time. Activities and habits that can help are:
- Eating healthy
- Avoiding dangerous substances
- Exercise and stretch
- Stay social with friends and family
- Practice new hobbies like reading or doing puzzles.
In addition to keeping the body in good shape, it is important to work on the health of our brain by challenging it in new ways. Practicing a word search or looking through photo albums and relieving memories can help more than individuals might realize.
Depression can affect many individuals ranging from teenage development to aging into elder years. The most common age group that is affected is individuals between the age of 45-65. Depression tends to affect women more than men throughout all age groups.
Depression among the elderly is common for many reasons. Besides a potential history of having the disorder passed down through the family tree, there are other reasons for the disorder. As we age and get closer to passing away, it can hinder one’s mental health. If their friends and family members are passing away, it can cause distress as well. Besides loss, changes in relationships, such as divorce can also lead to depression.
While the onset of depression varies from individual to individual, there are different treatments that work. Some individuals choose to utilize anti depression medications, while others turn to therapy. Finding the root cause of the disorder is often the first step to making progress towards a happier you.
Anxiety and depression are sometimes apparent in individuals at the same time, often called a co-occuring disorder. Common signs of anxiety are as follows:
- Racing or unwanted thoughts
- Stomach issues
There are many different types of subsets of anxiety. For example, some might have specific phobias, separation anxiety or panic disorders. Anxiety is not tied to specific events, but more routine issues are called generalized anxiety disorder.
Many individuals who suffer from anxiety in their older years could either be recently diagnosed or working through their anxiety since adolescence. Just like depression, people might realize the symptoms of their mental health issue, but avoid help from friends, family, or licensed professionals.
Post-traumatic stress disorder can affect anyone who has gone through any event deemed traumatic: an accident, physical or mental abuse, war, etc. As our elders are getting older, it is not uncommon to see PTSD in residents moving into assisted living facilities. Some of the most common events triggering PTSD in these individuals are events from war as there are individuals from Iraq, Vietnam and WWII suffering from PTSD. Unfortunately, anything from a sound or smell can trigger the experience affecting the individual.
Substance abuse affects all ages, genders and races. Addiction is a disease and it doesn’t care who is in its way. Like many other mental health disorders, addiction can start at a young age, or develop later in life. While addiction to drugs or alcohol is damaging at any age, it is more dangerous for those in their later years. As individuals suffering from drug or alcohol abuse continue to age, they put themselves at risk of the following:
- Falling or tripping
- Increased forgetfulness
- Cognitive impairments
- Weight gain or loss
- Behavioral changes
- Black outs leading to injury
Although addiction is a very serious issue, individuals can get treatment no matter how severe. When an individual suffering with addiction enters treatment, there are multiple methods they can utilize for healing including medical detox, group therapy, or recreation.
Obsessive compulsive disorder is a form of an anxiety disorder. The individual affected will obsess over certain thoughts and ideas and will perform acts or behaviors, often called compulsions in order to soothe the thoughts. Different types of compulsions that are performed to calm thoughts are:
- Excessive hand washing
- Counting or checking objects
- Opening and closing doors before leaving
- Repeating thoughts
Unfortunately, individuals will ruminate on these thoughts and believe that if they wash their hands for ten minutes, instead of one minute, they will prevent all diseases and germs from harming them. In this example, individuals might actually wash their hands till they blister or bleed, but they need to finish the compulsion in its entirety to satisfy their mental obsessions.
It is common for older individuals to have OCD, in either mild or severe forms. Sometimes older individuals might not notice they have OCD if they have been “practicing” these compulsions their whole life.
While OCD is not impossible to treat or live with, it can affect an individual’s quality of life if they are constantly counting, checking or cleaning, for example.
While mental health is something that should always be monitored, it is incredibly important as individuals age. We might not even notice something is wrong, without the help or intervention from a loved one. Although some forms of mental health disorders cannot be treated, like dementia, other types like anxiety or depression can be regulated with medication, therapy and other forms of treatment. It is important to visit a general practitioner every year or more to make sure everything is functioning properly as we age, and that includes our mental health.