Why Is Senior Mental Health So Important?

Julia Little  |  June 12, 2015

The mental health of older adults often goes overlooked or untreated, and that's problematic. Many seniors deal with mental stress, depression and anxiety, worsening their overall quality of life. Luckily, there are a few actions caregivers and loved ones can take to make sure their older relatives are doing OK.

Why do seniors experience mental health issues?

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 20 percent of people over the age of 55 experience some form of mental health condition, such as anxiety, bipolar disorder, cognition issues and depression. Among these conditions, depression is the most common among seniors and is usually the least recognized. It can have several effects on senior health, including physical and social aspects. Depression can also worsen medical conditions, the CDC acknowledged. Mental illness can sometimes be caused by medical conditions, according to Leading Age magazine. Depression may be caused by loneliness and isolation, retirement or the death of a loved one, Helpguide.org stated.

Regardless of why a mental illness develops, if it's ignored, it may take away from a senior's independence, Leading Age magazine noted. Loved ones and caregivers need to notice the signs early to prevent the condition from getting worse. 

How to help

There are a few ways to recognize these early symptoms in older adults and help them return to a happier, healthier life. 

  • Connect: It's important for seniors to connect with others as often as possible, Helpguide.org stated. Isolation can only promote loneliness and sadness, which can be detrimental to mental health. Families and friends should try to stay in touch with seniors via phone and email and visit them whenever possible. Older adults should also have the opportunity to interact with others in their neighborhood or assisted living community. If a loved one of yours seems lonely, encourage them to sign up for a class, try a new workout or pick up a new hobby that causes them to be around others. If a loved one is grieving or was recently diagnosed with a medical condition, there may be support groups in the area they could attend. Social interaction and friendship building can go a long way in mental health. 
  • Exercise: LIFE Senior Services noted that exercise for the mind and the body can help aid some mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. According to Helpguide.org, exercise may be as effective as medication in alleviating symptoms of depression. There are several physical exercises seniors can try to improve their mental health. Certain exercises, such as yoga and Tai chi, may be able to relieve stress, which can benefit psychological health. Getting fresh air and a change of scenery can help boost someone's mood too - it's as simple as talking a brief walk around the neighborhood. Mental exercises, including as puzzles and games, can help too. Strengthening the mind and learning new things can help build new p

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