Every October 10th, The World Health Organization promotes World Mental Health Day, “with the overall objective of raising awareness of mental health issues around the world and mobilizing efforts in support of mental health.” As an organization working primarily with seniors, we’d like to turn our focus to the critical role mental health plays for older adults. Research continues to show how our mental outlook impacts our physical health. Unfortunately, many seniors are at significant risk for depression due to acute disease, social isolation, and loneliness. With that in mind, caregivers, family members, and friends should pay close attention to their older loved one’s mental health.
Over the years, we’ve shared many different articles on the subject of senior mental health. So in honor of World Mental Health Day, we’d like to gather the most relevant into one place.
Positive Thinking Leads to Better Health in the Elderly
There’s growing evidence that a positive mental outlook leads to better health in the elderly. Researchers at the Yale School of Public Health wanted to test their theory that older persons with positive age stereotypes, would be more likely to recover from disability than those with negative age stereotypes. To test their hypothesis, researchers interviewed study participants monthly for up to 11 years and completed home-based assessments every 18 months. At the beginning of the assessment period, participants were all 70 years old or older and could independently perform four essential activities of daily living (ADL).
Researchers assessed age stereotypes by asking, “When you think of old persons, what are the first five words or phrases that come to mind?” Researchers averaged participant responses, each coded on a five-item scale ranging from 1 (most negative) to 5 (most positive). The team found that older people with positive age stereotypes were 44 percent more likely to fully recover from severe disability than those with negative age stereotypes. The positive age stereotype group also had a significantly slower rate of decline among each of the four essential daily activities.
These findings indicate that mental health is about more than just emotional health. It also plays a significant role in our physical well-being.
Doctors Often Misdiagnose Seniors Depression
Depression is one of the most common mental health issues, and seniors are certainly not immune. Evidence suggests that 1-5% of the general senior population experiences depression. However, specific senior communities experience depression at much higher rates. Senior depression is typically associated with other illnesses. In another example of how mental health can impact physical health, seniors depression also comes with an increased risk of heart disease and death. It doesn’t help that depression is often misdiagnosed in seniors — leaving many to go untreated.
These misdiagnoses occur because doctors often attribute symptoms of sadness to loss, stress, or the aging process. Sustained periods of sadness aren’t healthy, however. So seniors who believe they may be suffering from depression should talk with their doctor about possible treatment options.
Loneliness Negatively Impacts Senior’s Health
Staying involved in a vibrant and engaging social circle is a crucial component of maintaining positive mental health. Unfortunately, this can be difficult for seniors. The most recent census found that 28% of Americans aged 65 or older lived alone. To make matters worse, older people face big hurdles when it comes to maintaining friendships and moving freely in the world. The result of this isolation is loneliness, which has profoundly adverse effects on health. Lonely seniors face an increased mortality risk, an increased risk of dementia, and are at major risk for depression, and are more likely to fall victim to elder abuse.
Social Isolation Risks Seniors Health
Social isolation is different from loneliness. In a 2004 study, The British Columbia Ministry of Health described the difference this way:
“Loneliness is subjective and is measured using questions that seek perceptions of relationships, social activity, and feelings about social activity. Social isolation is objective and can be measured using observations of an individual’s social interactions and network.”
However, social isolation puts senior’s health at risk in much the same ways as loneliness. Studies have shown that social isolation leads to higher risks of mortality for people 52 and older. If you’re a caregiver or a family member of an older person, monitoring their social interaction is just as important as monitoring their physical health.
Isolation is Also a Risk for Caregivers
It’s not just seniors who are at risk from isolation. Family caregivers also experience isolation and depression as a result of their difficult work. “Research suggests that isolation impacts caregivers in many of the same ways as seniors. They’re much more susceptible to depression, heart disease, and stroke. Depression later in life has also been shown to increase a person’s risk of developing dementia.”
To alleviate these risks, caregivers require additional emotional support. “Researchers found that providing caregivers with several counseling sessions, access to support groups, and phone access to counselors as needed returned positive results. The added emotional support led “to less stress, less depression, [and] better health…” So caregivers should guard their mental health as much as seniors should.
Home Care Can Help
In many cases, home-care service workers can act as a guard against senior mental health problems. Caregivers who work in the home regularly can monitor their older clients for signs of changing mood. The companionship they offer can effectively counter feelings of loneliness as well as social isolation. What’s becoming increasingly clear is how vital it is for seniors need to stay engaged in the world and their lives as they age. Without the stimulation and satisfaction that comes with new experiences, seniors suffer mentally and physically. Caregiving providers — like Generations Home Care — on the front lines of this battle every day.
About Generations Home Care
Generations Home Care personalized in-home care and support services help those recovering from illness, injury or surgery, living with a chronic disease, or dealing with the natural process of aging. We help people live a fuller, healthier, and independent life.
We offer levels of care ranging from companionship, to respite for the primary family caregiver, to homemaking services, to assistance with activities of daily living, to Alzheimer’s and dementia care. Generations Home Care takes a holistic approach and emphasizes a consistent, client-centered plan of care.
Our Specialty Services Include:
- Rehab or hospital-to-home programs for safe discharge.
- Short-term post-operative care during recovery periods.
- Non-medical life management services for people with chronic conditions.
- Veteran’s connection to care program.
- Live-in services and couples care.
If you’d like to learn more about how we can help you, contact us today at 602-595-HOME (4663) or by filling out the contact form on our website.