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Are Mental Health Issues A Normal Part Of Aging?

Are mental health issues a normal part of aging?

|Roseanne Scammahorn, PhD, NCC – Ohio State University Extension, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, Darke County|

|Lorrissa L. Dunfee, MS – Ohio State University Extension, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, Belmont County|

Over eight million U.S. adults 65 or older have a mental health or substance use disorder and 2/3 of this population do NOT receive the treatment they need.  According to the CDC the four common mental health disorders for aging adults are depression, anxiety, bipolar, and eating disorders. Left untreated, these disorders are associated with poor health outcomes, higher healthcare utilization, increased disability and impairment, compromised quality of life, increased caregiver stress, higher risk of suicide, and increased mortality.

Depression is a mood disorder. It ranks as the most pervasive mental health concern, impacting 1-5% of older adults.  If untreated, it can lead to physical and mental impairments, and impede social functioning, and interfere with the symptoms and treatment of other chronic health problems. 

Anxiety is a common mood disorder among the aging adults. In fact, depression and anxiety often appear in tandem. The CDC indicates nearly half of older adults with anxiety also experience depression.  According to a study from the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry,  more than 27% of older adults under the care of an aging service provider show signs of anxiety.  Anxiety in aging adults is thought to be underdiagnosed because older adults tend to emphasize physical problems and downplay psychiatric symptoms.

Bipolar disorders are often marked by unusual mood shifts and are frequently misdiagnosed in aging adults because the symptoms presented are typical with the aging process, especially related to dementia and Alzheimer’s. 

Eating disorders are becoming increasingly prevalent among aging adults.  Underlying behavioral issues that cause and exacerbate eating disorders can go undetected for quite a while before an eating disorder is identified and treated, making it especially dangerous. 

Mental health in aging adults is thought to be underdiagnosed due to the unique age related health issues, stigma attached to mental health problems, or because the individual may not be able to explain what he or she is experiencing. 

What can be done to help?

  • Encourage social connectedness – Volunteer, take a class, visit friends, join a senior center/book club
  • Find meaning and purpose in life –Focus on the things they can STILL do and how much they can still offer
  • Encourage healthy habits and self-care – Exercise, proper nutrition, quality sleep, etc.
  • Develop coping skills and ways to adapt to change
  • Offer emotional support –Be there to listen and offer hope
  • Encourage professional help when appropriate
  • Have a conversation with them about your concern

For a more detailed overview, check out the August 7th, 2020 webinar on “Mental Health Needs for Aging Adults” in the NCRAN webinar archive.


Sources

Beyond Blue. (n.d.). What to Say and Why. Retrieved January 30, 2020, from https://www.beyondblue.org.au/get-support/have-the-conversation/what-to-say-and-why

Beyond Blue. (2014). How to talk to an older adult you’re worried about. Retrieved June 19, 2020, from https://youtu.be/2LG7pz36ZLg

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Association of Chronic Disease Directors. (2008). The State of Mental Health and Aging in America. Retrieved January 30, 2020 from https://www.cdc.gov/aging/pdf/mental_health.pdf

East, A. (2018, March 29). Four Common Mental Illnesses in the Elderly: The Factors and Symptoms. Retrieved January 30, 2020, from https://caringpeopleinc.com/blog/mental-illnesses-in-the-elderly/

Eating Disorders in Elderly Patients. (2017, May 24). Retrieved January 30, 2020, from http://eatingdisorders.com/articles/general/eating-disorders-in-elderly-patients

Estevez, C. (Ed.). (2019, October 9). Bipolar Disorder and Seniors. Retrieved January 30, 2020, from http://www.bipolar-lives.com/bipolar-disorder-and-seniors.html

Ohio State Extension. (N.D.) Eating disorders awareness: Introduction. Retrieved on June 19, 2020 from https://ohioline.osu.edu/factsheet/ED-1001

Ohio State Extension. (N.D.) Targeting a healthier diet. Retrieved on June 19, 2020 from https://ohioline.osu.edu/factsheet/SS-123 Services, L. I. F. E. S. (n.d.).

The National Institute of Mental Health. (2016, February). Eating Disorders. Retrieved January 30, 2020, from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/eating-disorders/index.shtml

The National Institute of Mental Health. (2018, July). Anxiety Disorders. Retrieved January 30, 2020, from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml

The National Institute of Mental Health. (2018, March). Older Adults and Mental Health. Retrieved January 30, 2020, from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/older-adults-and-mental-health/index.shtml

World Health Organization. (2017, December 12). Mental health of older adults. Retrieved January 30, 2020, from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/mental-health-of-older-adults

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