How Seniors Can Avoid Mental Illness?

Luke Fitzpatrick

A mental health disorder can be one or more of a wide range of mental health conditions. A mental health disorder becomes a mental illness when ongoing signs and symptoms cause frequent stress and affect one’s ability to function.

Signs of mental illness can vary, depending on the disorder, circumstances, and other factors. For older people, multiple risk factors can exacerbate symptoms of mental illness, for which they may require long-term care.

The risk factors for seniors

There’s no denying that things change as you get older. Older adults can experience reduced mobility, chronic pain, frailty, or other health problems, as well as events such as bereavement, a change in living conditions, or a drop in socioeconomic status brought on by retirement. All of these stressors can result in isolation, loneliness, and psychological distress.

Mental illness has an impact on physical health and when left unrecognized, it can have devastating effects. So how do you get to know and protect against mental illness in the older years?

Recognizing the signs

Depression and anxiety are two of the most common mental health disorders experienced by seniors. They often co-occur with other illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, and dementia. More than just some sadness and apprehension about the future, depression and anxiety can interfere with function, enjoyment of life, and independence.

As mood disorders, older adults with depression and anxiety tend to complain of psychosomatic symptoms, such as persistent digestive problems, aches, pains, and cramps. Despite treatment, these symptoms don’t get better without first addressing the underlying mental health need.

Treatment for mental illness

Treatments for mental illness can vary widely depending on the patient. Speaking to a doctor is a good first step and if necessary they can offer a referral to an appropriate support service.

Specialist care can be provided to people who have developed or are at risk of developing, a mental health condition such as depression, anxiety, or psychosis. There’s also help available for people with severe and persistent ‘behaviors of concern’, common with mental illness like dementia. Specialist care may include:

  • An evaluation of a person’s mental, emotional, and social needs.
  • Identification of a mental health disorder based on symptoms and circumstances.
  • A care plan is developed with the older person, their carers, and family.

Caring for people with mental illness

For older people living in residential aged care facilities, treatment requires working in partnership with the aged care providers. For friends, family, and carers managing the health of a person with suspected mental illness, the nursing home lawyers at Skaug Law recommend the following tips:

  1. Encourage social interaction and social support. Having a solid support network is essential for the maintenance of brain health.
  2. Urge them to exercise and eat healthily. People who exercise regularly and eat a balanced diet have better mental health and emotional wellbeing.
  3. Organize a digital or printed medical file that includes their name, date of birth, name of GP and specialists, and a list of all medications, doses, and responses.
  4. Accompany the person to appointments and prepare ahead of time by monitoring adherence to medication routines and by developing a list of questions to ask.
  5. Take a pen and paper to make notes and ask for more details if you don’t understand the information being given.
  6. Discuss requirements for any new medication prescribed such as lifestyle changes, abstaining from alcohol, or avoiding certain foods.
  7. Do your own research into any diagnosis, ensuring the sites you visit are reputable and factual.
  8. Pay attention to mood and behavior changes and take immediate action if they show serious side effects such as mania, hallucinations, and suicidal thoughts.

Avoiding mental illness in the older years

Avoiding mental illness is something we should all try to do, especially during these difficult and strange times. Safeguarding mental health during a prolonged crisis is a must.

During times of isolation, avoid sitting idly at home. Keep the mind busy and focus on something other than alarming news headlines. Find things to do that will uplift your mental wellbeing, such as something creative, productive, or engaging.

  • Connect with old friends on social media.
  • Take up yoga.
  • Get baking.
  • Learn a new language.
  • FaceTime the grandkids.
  • Exercise.
  • Do a puzzle.
  • Take an online class.
  • Read a book.

When things return to more ‘normal’ times, consider a holiday or a trip to visit family. Consider joining a club or volunteering in your community. Stay socially engaged as you age and you can help stave off conditions such as dementia, anxiety, and depression.

Facilitating understanding of mental illness

To facilitate understanding of the risk and protective factors of mental illness in later life it’s important to consider ‘what is successful aging?’ According to Rowe & Khan, successful aging encompasses the avoidance of disease and disability, the maintenance of high physical and cognitive function, and sustained engagement in social and productive activities.

Risk factors to look out for include bereavement, social isolation, and poor physical health.

When it comes to coping methods, this can be promoted through support groups for older people and medication reviews.

Knowing what separates mental disorders from 'normal' aging has been an important achievement in the field of geriatric health. At this stage in the lifespan, appropriate and timely diagnosis of mental conditions is essential, and this requires a greater awareness of mental illness symptoms among older people.

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Academic Speaker | Freelance Journalist | I have contributed to a variety of publications such as Forbes, Tech In Asia, and The Next Web. I cover a variety of topics ranging from fintech, big data, AI, blockchain, to lifestyle and breaking news stories.

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