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Maintaining Strong Mental Health as You Age

Updated on September 27, 2012

Quite often we view symptoms of mental health disorders as a natural part of the aging process. The fact is, however, this does not have to be the case. According to the American Association for Geriatric psychology, 20% of adults over the age of 55 have some type of mental health concern. As we get older, the ability to identify and separate the signs of abnormal aging from those of the normal aging process is essential. Practicing good mental health prevention techniques is also a vital part of maintaining good health throughout the remainder of life. By understanding that mental health disorders are not a natural part of aging, we can ensure the elderly who suffer from mental health concerns received appropriate treatment to alleviate symptoms or even cure the disorder.

Depression

In older adults, depression is one of the most prevalent of the mental health disorders. It is estimated that nearly 20% of the elderly in the community suffer from depression. This number increases to 37% for those who are in nursing facilities. According to the American Psychological Association (APA) Men aged 85 and older have the highest suicide rate of all age groups. Though they only make up 13% of the population, they account for nearly 20% of all suicides.

The symptoms of depression for the elderly are quite often mistaken for normal aging. For example, an elderly person withdrawing from activities they once enjoyed is often excused away by saying “well, dad is getting older” or “mom isn’t as young as she used to be.” And elderly person who expresses feeling of “slowing down” or who complains of physical discomforts is, again, more likely to be reminded of their age rather than accessed for possible depression. The CDC reports that 80% of depression cases in older adults are treatable. It is, therefore, important to at least consider the possibility than to just excuse possible depressive symptoms as old age.

Anxiety

Quite frequently, older adults with depression are also diagnosed with anxiety. This is the second most prevalent mental health concern for the older adult population. It is estimated that anxiety affects 10% to 20% of the older population.

Though anxiety is a normal part of life, it becomes problematic when it begins to affect social interactions, relationships, work performance, and daily activities. Any problems in these areas are often seen as part of the aging process and can be easily missed. Also, older adults tend to focus more on physical concerns instead of mental ones.

There is a big difference between normal forgetfulness that is part of aging and the memory-loss related to Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s is a neurological disorder. It impairs brain function, affecting memory and resulting in dementia. Those suffering from Alzheimer’s may experience difficulty remembering names and events, disorientation, impaired judgment, periods of confusion, difficulty speaking, swallowing, and even walking. There is, unfortunately, no cure for Alzheimer’s, however, there are treatments designed to improve the quality of life for Alzheimer’s patients. Over 90 experimental therapies have been developed since 2010 with the goal of slowing down or even stopping the progression of Alzheimer’s in patients. Researchers believe that early detection may be the key to treating Alzheimer’s. The problem is most symptoms of Alzheimer’s are, again, considered as part of the aging process and, therefore, initially overlooked. By the time an Alzheimer’s diagnosis is made, it is too late for many current therapies to have much impact.

There are many ways to stay healthy as you age. These include maintaining a healthy diet, getting regular physical exercise, and getting plenty of mental exercise as well. To learn more visit 10 Tips for Aging Gracefully where you are certain to learn new ways of ensuring a happy, healthy continuation of life.

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    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 4 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      Having worked with a number of elderly people in a volunteer capacity, I have found that depression and anxiety are common issues, especially as spouses and family members pass away and the person sees themselves as staying around for "no reason." Many are anxious to be with loved ones on the others side, and find it difficult to keep up daily maintenance of the home. They need to be checked on regularly to see that they are taking their medications, eating properly, and keeping clean.

    • LQWILLIams profile image
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      LQWILLIams 4 years ago

      Thank you for reading and commenting. You are so right as well.

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