The global population is aging at a rapid pace, with the world’s population of individuals over 65 projected to double from 12% to 22% over the next thirty years – an increase in the older adult population of over 1.1 billion people! Universally there continues to be a strong association between aging and health issues including neurological disorders such as dementia, and chronic or degenerative health conditions such as diabetes and osteoporosis. As people age, they are more likely to experience several of these conditions simultaneously – with such heavy focus on these aspects of the aging process, the effects of aging on mental health are often overlooked.
Older adult mental health
At a general population level, the prevalence of mental illness typically decreases considerably as aging increases. However recent research findings suggest that as people progress to older age they can experience high levels of psychological distress, with approximately 20% of older adults over 65 experiencing some form of mental disorder including:
- Anxiety disorders
- Cognitive impairments (including dementia)
- Chronic pain
- Substance abuse
Unfortunately, many people who fall within this age bracket still feel there is a stigma attached to mental health disorders, viewing them as a personal weakness as opposed to a genuine health condition. As a result, older adults tend to be more hesitant to share their experiences with others, often ignoring their symptoms for an extended period of time and only seeking professional help when they reach a point of crisis.
Factors contributing to mental health in older adults
The ‘older adult’ age bracket is often seen as a transitional period, with the occurrence of multiple big life changes, often simultaneously!
- Retirement – while this can be viewed as a significant personal achievement, retirement often contributes to increased financial stress, loss of structure, as well as a sense of lost independence and purpose.
- Bereavement – the loss of a loved one can be devastating, and while grief affects us all differently, the loss of a life partner or long-term friend can increase feelings of loneliness and isolation.
- Physical illness or disability – as aging progresses so does the likelihood of comorbid health conditions. Decreased mobility, chronic pain and frailty make engaging in enjoyable activities and normal routine increasingly difficult, impacting quality of life.
- Medication – most older adults take some form of medication, with many taking more than one at any given time. As we age the way we process medication changes, becoming more susceptible to side effects which can impair day to day living.
- Changing living arrangements – from adult children leaving home, to relocating to retirement villages or care facilities, the upheaval of familiarity can be mentally and emotionally taxing.
As you can see, each of these stressors have the ability to contribute to the experience of psychological distress in older adults.
Improving your wellbeing
There are many healthy habits you can engage in to improve your mental health and wellbeing during this period. Including:
- Eating a balanced diet
- Maintaining good sleep habits
- Exercising regularly
- Regularly engaging in social activities
- Consider community volunteering
- Explore hobbies that interest you
- Spend time with friends and family
- Share your thoughts and feelings with others
Planning ahead, taking care of your physical and mental wellbeing, asking for support, and seeking professional help if you need it are all key in making the transition into older adulthood.
If you would like to contact us at COPE Centre, please click here: CONTACT US – Copecentre