As our population continues to age, health problems continue to increase as well. While many tests, diagnoses, and treatments focus on physical health, one area that can be overlooked is mental health. An estimated 20 percent of older adults (age 50 and older) have experienced some type of mental health concern (CDC), yet many go undiagnosed or undertreated. A decrease in mental health is not a normal sign of ageing, but it can happen to anyone at any age. By being aware and educated about mental health, you can help yourself or loved ones receive proper treatment.
The most common mental health disorders among the elderly population include cognitive impairment, such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, depression, and anxiety.1 Recognizing signs and symptoms is key to receiving treatment. Signs and symptoms2 include:
- Noticeable changes in mood, energy levels, or appetite.
- Feeling flat or having trouble feeling positive emotions.
- Feelings of sadness or hopelessness.
- Difficulty concentrating, disorientation, or confusion.
- Memory loss.
- Feeling restless or on edge.
- Problems with sleep.
- Social withdrawal and loss of interest/motivation.
- Physical problems that cannot be explained, such as headaches, digestive issues, or pain.
What you can do
Mental health can affect many areas of your life. It could lead to physical and mental impairments, or even social functioning. Research has shown that a mental health condition could worsen chronic health conditions like heart disease and diabetes, and cause complications.1 But by following healthy habits and taking care of your body, you will feel better and may improve your mental health.
- Engage in exercise! Believe it or not, exercise has been shown to be a treatment just as effective as medications for mental health conditions such as depression. It does not have to be a strenuous, high-intensity workout. Think about small ways you can add movement to your day. Enjoy a short walk or do light housework. Small bouts of movement all add up!
- Eat healthy. Focus on eating lots of fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains. Avoid processed, refined foods. Also, try to eat every three to four hours.
- Aim for quality sleep. For many older adults, sleep may be a challenge, but lack of sleep can worsen mental health conditions. Aim for seven to nine hours of sleep per night. To get better sleep, make a routine and stick with it! Keep a regular schedule, darken the room, keep it cool, and limit any sounds.
- Stay connected. Social support is key! Whether it is in person or by phone or email, support can help you manage your health. Think about ways that you can get out – meeting a friend, going for a walk in the park, or even joining a local group or senior citizen center.
- Seek medical advice. Talk with your doctor! Your doctor can help you find effective treatments, therapy, and even resources to help you manage your health.
Helping a loved one
Providing support to a family member or friend who is facing mental health issues can have a strong impact on their overall health.
- Watch for signs and symptoms and help them seek medical advice to get an accurate diagnosis and effective treatment.
- Offer moral support by listening. You may not be able to fix the problem, but listening is sometimes enough.
- Accompany your loved one to doctor appointments.
- Schedule activities to help keep their mind and body active. Go for a walk, see a movie, play a game. Regular activities can help individuals stay engaged and combat loneliness.
- Plan and prepare meals. A healthy diet can help manage mental health issues.
- Encourage healthy habits and treatments. Encourage your loved one to exercise, eat healthy, and take prescribed medications.
Mental health issues and concerns can happen to anyone, but it doesn’t have to keep you down. With proper management and support, you can feel better and enjoy your golden years!