Mental Health and Older Adults

It is important to remember that as our population ages, mental health and emotional well-being remain important considerations. While many older adults enjoy good mental health, many others are at risk of developing mental disorders, neurological disorders or substance use problems. In addition, older adults can develop diabetes, hearing loss, and osteoarthritis.

Approximately 15% of adults aged 60 and over suffer from a mental disorder.

Most common is depression, followed by anxiety and substance abuse. Approximately 25% of deaths from self-harm are among those aged 60 or above.

Symptoms of Depression

* Loss of appetite

* Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities

* Disturbed sleep

* Lack of energy

* Poor concentration

* Withdrawal

* Feelings of hopelessness

* Low self-esteem

Symptoms of Anxiety

* Restlessness, tiredness, shakiness

* Palpitations, shortness of breath, dry mouth, trouble swallowing, nausea, diarrhea

* Constant worry and feeling on edge

* Irritability

Symptoms of Substance Abuse

* Consistent use of substances to the point of intoxication

* Inability to stop once started

* Elevated liver enzymes

* Denial that substance abuse is a problem

* Blackouts

* Increased tolerance

* Withdrawal symptoms such as shaking, nausea, headaches, sweating when without substance for any length of time

Multiple Stressors

Older adults can face multiple stressors in addition to the normal stresses of life, such as:

* limited mobility

* chronic pain

* need for long-term care

* bereavement

* a drop in socioeconomic status with retirement

* abuse – including physical, sexual, psychological, emotional, financial and material

* abandonment

* neglect

These factors can then lead to isolation, loss of independence and dignity, and loneliness.

What to Do

It is important for all of us to maintain good general health and social care as we age. In the event that we do experience physical illness, it is important to identify and treat it early. The same goes for mental illness. We must not fall victim to the stigma that can unfortunately come with mental illness and instead, seek treatment for any challenging psychological symptoms we might develop. Health care providers must be trained in working with issues and disorders related to ageing. And, information and long term support must be available for caregivers. On the community-level, we can encourage and support active, healthy ageing and work to promote awareness of mental health issues in older adults.

~Lynn Motley, LICSW

Lynn Motley, MSSW, LICSW


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