The phrase "golden years" conjures images of older adults basking
in the carefree days that come with retirement. For one in four adults
age 65 and older, however, those golden years can be accompanied by dark
days in the form of mental health issues such as depression, anxiety,
schizophrenia, or dementia.
Even more disturbing is the fact that those 85 and older have the highest
suicide rate of any age group. It's particularly alarming to learn
that older white males have a suicide rate almost six times that of the
general population. And future trends are especially concerning, as the
number of older adults with mental health disorders is expected to nearly
double by 2030.
These startling statistics demand attention, and ATRIO Health Plans is
Mental Health Awareness Week, Oct. 7-13, by increasing awareness about the prevalence of mental illness among older
Why Older Adults are at Risk
A variety of factors increase the risk of older adults experiencing mental
- Seniors often experience reduced mobility, chronic pain, frailty or other
health problems requiring long-term care. A significant percentage of
patients in these settings experience depression and other mental health issues.
- For many older Americans, retirement can be accompanied by a drop in socioeconomic
status, which can lead to depression and/or anxiety.
- One-third of widows/widowers meet criteria for depression in the first
month after their spouse's death, and half remain clinically depressed
after one year.
- Mental health has an impact on physical health, and vice versa. For instance,
older adults with chronic conditions such as heart disease, have higher
rates of depression than those who are healthy. Similarly, untreated depression
in an older person with heart disease can negatively affect heart disease
outcomes. Clinical depression can be triggered by other illnesses common
in later life, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease,
cancer, and arthritis.
- Mental health services often are underutilized by seniors because they're
not comfortable discussing mental illness, or they may not even recognize
that they're experiencing a mental health issue. Additionally, older
adults frequently have acute physical maladies that take precedence during
a doctor's appointment, leaving their mental health unaddressed.
Treating and Managing Mental Illness
Fortunately, there are highly effective treatments for depression occurring
later in life, and most depressed older adults improve dramatically with
treatment. Other mental health conditions, such as anxiety and bipolar
disorder, also can be treated successfully with medication, psychotherapy,
or a combination of both.
If you're an older person with a mental health condition, the treatment
you receive will be the same as for those in any other age group. Treatment
depends on your symptoms, but may take one or more of the following forms:
- Lifestyle changes such as daily exercise and having a healthy diet.
- Psychotherapy to help you understand the root causes of your illness.
- Medications to reduce or eliminate symptoms.
- Learning how to reduce and manage stress.
- Limiting alcohol consumption.
- Eliminating nicotine use.
- Continuing treatment for as long as necessary.