Humanacare Winter 2022
December 13, 2022

The Importance of Seniors’ Mental Health

Senior mental health is often overlooked, even though it is just as important as mental health is for everyone else. The relationship between seniors and mental health issues can be even more trying as individuals age and face increased difficulty with normal functions. Here are some reasons why seniors face mental health issues.

Seniors’ mental health can be at risk for several reasons.

Higher Risk of Isolation. Being isolated from others can lead to feelings of depression and other mental health issues, and seniors are at a higher risk as they age.
Declining Cognitive Functioning. As we age, our brain does not operate as it used to, thus affecting how we process things, feel, and view situations, others, and ourselves.
Impact on Overall Health. Isolation and depression can increase our risk of premature death. Turning to bad habits to make us feel better (smoking, drinking, or overeating) can lead to obesity, stroke, heart disease, and even suicide.

Multiple common mental health issues become evident in the elderly and senior population.

Depression. Depression is more than occasionally feeling sad — it is constant feelings of anxiety, guilt, anger, shame, emptiness, worthlessness, irritability, or hopelessness. General apathy about life may also develop as a result, which can lead to suicidal thoughts.
Anxiety disorders. Feelings of anxiety that don’t go away or that consistently get triggered in certain kinds of situations increasingly interrupt normal activities. Common anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Dementia. We are aware of Alzheimer’s disease, but several other forms of dementia exist as well. As a person’s memory deteriorates, it may lead to other symptoms such as confusion, personality changes, erratic behaviour, and communication difficulties. Some professionals prefer to classify dementia as a brain disorder rather than as a mental illness. But, despite how it’s classified, it can have a substantial impact on a person’s mental well-being. That’s why, when it comes to the health of seniors and the elderly, mental disorders like dementia need our awareness — even if they aren’t always easy to classify or talk about.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Seniors who have seen or survived a dangerous or shocking event can develop this challenging mental condition. Long after the event, they may continue to have “fight-or-flight” feelings, especially when triggered by certain sights, sounds, smells, or situations. Even when they are safe at home, they can experience a host of symptoms that make it difficult to live a normal life.
Addiction. Some seniors have substance abuse problems or behavioural addictions that negatively affect their lives. But, with the elderly, addiction is often overlooked by friends, family, or caregivers. Even doctors sometimes fail to diagnose addictions in the elderly since the symptoms can mirror those of other mental health conditions.

It is important to understand the early symptoms of mental issues in elderly adults and help them return to a healthy and happy life. Here are some simple actions you can take to help yourself or a loved one.

Connect. Seniors must connect with others. Try a social hobby, sign up for a class, or try a group workout activity to improve physical health.
Exercise. Exercise plays an important role in senior care. Seniors should exercise to improve both mind and body, as it can be as effective as medication in alleviating some symptoms of depression. Exercises like tai chi and yoga can help relieve mental stress. Mental exercises like games and puzzles can also help.
Talk With Your Doctor. If you suspect that you are experiencing a problem with your mental health, then please see your family doctor. They may start you on a course of treatment that will help you recover or put you in touch with specialized professionals or local mental health supports.
Eat a Healthy Diet. Good nutrition can have powerful and positive effects on our mental health and overall vitality. Focus on eating a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean and high-quality proteins, healthy fats, whole grains, and calcium-rich foods. Avoid sugar, refined carbs, and heavily processed foods.

Be proactive with your mental well-being. And don’t be afraid to talk about it. Take an active role in doing whatever you can to feel your best.