Mental health issues can affect anyone at any age, but older adults are more vulnerable to depression and other mental illnesses on average. According to the World Health Organization, 15% of adults aged 60 and up have a mental disorder.
However, mental illnesses are not always a normal part of the aging process. If you notice or hear from a loved one that their day-to-day life is being negatively impacted by poor mental health, they may require treatment. Family and friends are in a unique position to assist older adults in seeking mental health services that will improve their quality of life.
Continue reading to learn about some of the most common symptoms of mental health conditions that affect older adults, what types of therapy can help, and some useful resources to help you find quality care.
Early Warning Signs of Mental Health Deterioration
A mental health decline can be caused by a variety of factors, ranging from physical illness to loneliness to difficult lifestyle changes. Friends and family members should be able to recognize common warning signs of a mental health crisis in any situation, including:
- Changes in mood that are noticeable and long-lasting
- Anger, aggression, or agitation
- A lack of positive emotion, even when participating in activities that a loved one normally enjoys
- Sleeping difficulties or oversleeping
- Appetite changes
- Consistent headaches, digestive problems, or chronic pain
- a dependency on alcohol or drugs
- Suicidal ideation
- Participating in high-risk activities
The list of potential warning signs is endless, but the important thing is to recognize and address significant changes in a loved one’s behavior that may indicate they are in distress.
It is also worth noting that in older adults, depression is frequently misdiagnosed as dementia, as symptoms such as forgetfulness and disorientation can occur. Dementia patients are also more likely to develop depression, and they may try to conceal memory loss and other symptoms. If you are caring for a loved one who has Alzheimer’s disease or dementia and notice signs of depression, speak with your loved one’s healthcare provider about how to manage these symptoms.
Different Kinds of Mental Health Services
Many types of therapy are beneficial to people of all ages who are experiencing mental health decline and can be tailored to the needs of older adults. The therapies listed below are some of the most commonly used to treat depression and other mental health conditions.
- Theraputic Support. This type of treatment focuses on improving a person’s self-esteem and self-reliance. The goal is to improve well-being by assisting older adults in regaining their confidence.
- CBT stands for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Depression-related behaviors, such as self-isolation, irritability, and appetite fluctuations, are frequently reinforced by unwanted, repetitive thoughts. CBT focuses on identifying and changing unwanted thoughts in order to change corresponding behaviors and improve overall quality of life.
- Coaching for Sleep and Relaxation Poor sleeping habits can have a negative impact on overall health and exacerbate depression and anxiety. Through relaxation, exercise, and adequate rest, this type of therapy aims to alleviate distressing thoughts.
- Therapy for Pain Management. Non-pharmaceutical treatments can help many people who suffer from chronic pain caused by aging. Therapy can be an effective alternative to prescribed medications in some cases.
- Therapy for Problem Solving This type of therapy focuses on how to navigate stressful and difficult situations on a personal level. Problem solving therapy may be a good way for older adults who are going through major life changes to learn coping skills that are tailored to their specific situation.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of mental health treatment approaches. Whatever emotions or circumstances your loved one is experiencing, be aware that there are a wide range of therapies available that have the potential to improve their day-to-day mood and quality of life.
Elderly Mental Health Services Resources
Finding the right mental health care for a loved one can be difficult. It may take some time for them to feel comfortable asking for help and receiving treatment, and the first treatment options they try may not be the best fit. Fortunately, there are numerous resources available to connect older adults with mental health professionals as they seek the most appropriate care. The following are a few websites to keep in mind throughout the process.
- MentalHealth.gov is a government website that provides information on mental health issues. The website of the United States Department of Health and Human Services contains some useful resources, including a section dedicated to parents and caregivers.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – Your loved one should be aware of this 24-hour, free, and confidential phone line if they ever experience a mental health crisis and require immediate assistance.
- Eldercare Locator – This website, run by the U.S. Administration on Aging, provides quick access to local care resources via a zip code or city search to find dementia care options Chicago.
- Veterans Crisis Line – Another helpful resource managed by the Department of Veterans Affairs that can be reached by phone or online chat.
- Medicare Health Services Coverage – The Center for Medicare Advocacy created this helpful guide that explains how Medicare covers various types of mental health and substance abuse services.
Although not all mental health services are nearby or easily accessible, there are still resources to which older adults can turn for assistance. With the rise of telehealth, more accessible treatment options are available, and the availability of a variety of therapy approaches increases the likelihood that your loved one will find a form of treatment that works for them. Older adults can gain the resources to manage even the most difficult, life-altering situations with effective mental health care and the support of loved ones and caregivers.
Dr. Raheel Karim, Consultant Psychiatrist at Pall Mall Medical, emphasizes the importance of encouraging your loved one to speak with their healthcare provider as soon as memory loss begins to interfere with familiar daily tasks. Delaying diagnosis and treatment may have unintended consequences for their health and well-being.
“Fear of discrimination, loss of autonomy, and exclusion may prevent those experiencing symptoms from seeking professional help. Having to deal with health issues on your own can cause a lot of stress and anxiety, and Alzheimer’s is no exception. According to Dr. Karim, “a timely diagnosis allows the patient and their family to adjust, process the diagnosis, and access support.”