Mental Health and Ageing

Developing mental problems is not a normal part of getting older. The risk of dementia does increase with time but, even in our nineties, the vast majority of us can look forward to our brains still working pretty well.

For some people, though, their retirement years are harder and sadder than they should be because of depression. It may be as common as it is among young adults. It is often undiagnosed. Depression is more common in people who are widowed, have lost mobility and have other health problems.

That’s bad news; the good news is that depression in older people seems to respond very well to treatment. More than 80% will get significantly better. The problem can be actually getting them to seek the therapy they need.  Older people are often reluctant to seek help. They will go to a doctor for aches and pains in their bodies but not for the pain in their emotions. More people in the 50-64 age range report mental health problems than people older than 65 but is that just because the older they get the more likely they are to ‘suffer in silence’? Are they paralysed by old-fashioned ideas about mental health? Do family and carers just attribute their withdrawal and glum silence to  ‘old age’?

Here are some tips:

Depression is under-diagnosed in the elderly. Don’t just expect or accept persistent sad moods in yourself or the elders you care about. 

Just because older people get a lot of practice at going to funerals, it does not mean they are automatically better at coping with grief and loss. Losing partners and friends can result in deep and troubling pain that may take a long time to heal. It can be helped with support and counselling.

Social support and activity seems to be a key way to stave off depression. The more visitors, trips, groups and activities the better!

Older people deserve respect and should maintain control over their own lives as long as they wish; however, those who love them should be persistent in urging them to get the help they need. Their apparent stubbornness may actually be anxiety, so support and information may work better than just nagging.

Pay particular attention to an elder’s mental health after they lose mobility or if they are facing some other health challenge.

Modern technology offers wonderful opportunities for elders to socially interact. It takes patience to teach social media skills, but it sounds like an ideal task for grandchildren!

Check hearing aids. A survey of older people in rest homes showed that a large proportion couldn’t communicate easily because of hearing problems. This was often because of poorly maintained hearing aids or flat batteries or an inability to put them on.

Physical health and mental health are so connected. Treating one often helps the other. Both deserve prompt attention if something is amiss. Staying active, eating well, avoiding alcohol and smoking and engaging socially seem to be the best things for both our bodies and our minds.

Older people may need assistance in finding out about and accessing support services. Don’t assume that there isn’t more available. Check the websites below or Citizens Advice.

The huge majority of older people are actually happy with life and do not suffer from mental problems, and those who do have mental health problems should expect to recover. Old age may be tough at times, but let’s help ourselves and the elders we care about to enjoy the best mental health possible.

Some good information can be found on: