Elderly Health
Mental Health of Older Adults

​​​Overview:

  • The changes in lifestyle associated with aging affects mental health.
  • Professional changes and the loss of loved ones are among the factors that affect mental health.
  • Dementia, depression and anxiety are common—but not natural—mental disorders associated with aging.
  • Anxiety is often associated with depression; i.e. most depressed individuals experience anxiety as well.
  • Trying new activities and socialization are necessary for supporting the older adults, mentally and socially, as they age.
Introduction:
To keep fit and feel in good health is of paramount importance for individuals of all age groups. This is especially true of the elderly. As people age, they experience several dramatic changes that affect their mental health. Such changes include Professional changes, retirement and the loss of loved ones. Addressing those changes is the key to keeping in good health.

Mental health concepts
Mental health:
Mentally healthy individuals are those who are able to realize their abilities, handle life's normal stresses, work and be productive members of the society.
Cognitive health:
The most important element of mental health, cognitive health has to do with the ability to think clearly, learn and remember.
Mental health of older adults: 
By ‘older adults’ are meant the individuals aged 60 years old or more. They can be productive members of the society; as family members, volunteers and active participants in the labor force. Despite the fact that majority of older persons enjoy a good health, many are at risk of mental, neurological or other disorders and illnesses, such as: diabetes, hearing impairment or osteoporosis. 

Common mental disorders associated with aging:
  • Dementia
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
Though common, these disorders are not natural outcomes of aging. If not treated, they can lead to diseases and worsening problems.
Risk factors of aging-associated mental disorders:
  • Increased incidence of diseases (e.g. heart diseases, strokes, Alzheimer's disease, etc.)
  • Side effects of some medications
  • Loss of friendships, and diminished capability of self-reliance, economic autonomy, work, flexibility and movement
  • Social solitude
  • Drastic lifestyle changes (e.g. moving to live in a nursing home)
  • Hospitalization
Dementia: 
A syndrome occurring as a result of weakened memory, and reduced ability to think or do the daily activities. Alzheimer's disease is among the most common types of dementia.
Symptoms:
Early stage: 
  • Forgetfulness
  • Loss of time perception
  • Getting lost in familiar places
Middle stage: 
  • Forgetting recent incidents and people's names
  • Getting lost at home
  • Increased difficulty communicating with others
  • Needing help for self-care
  • Behavioral changes, including asking the same questions repetitively 
Advanced stage: 
  • Loss of time and place perception
  • Difficulty recognizing relatives and friends
  • Increased need for help for self-care
  • ​Difficulty walking
  • Behavioral changes getting more drastic to include aggressiveness
  • Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia; it triggers 60-70% of dementia cases.
Depression in older persons:
Depression is among the most common mental disorders occurring in older persons. It may lead to weakened physical, mental and social performance. This, in turn, causes chronic diseases to worsen, prolongs stay at hospitals, and increases the need for medications.
Symptoms of depression:
Depression is different from transient sorrow or frustration; the depressed persons experience some or all of the following symptoms:
  • Continued sorrow
  • Quitting the activities that used to be interesting
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Feeling uncomfortable
  • Despair
Anxiety in older persons:
Anxiety is often associated with depression; i.e. most depressed individuals experience anxiety as well. Anxiety is difficult to diagnose in older persons; since it usually develops physical—and not mental—symptoms.

Symptoms of anxiety:
There are no clear symptoms associated with anxiety. However, older persons suffering anxiety may experience the following symptoms affecting their behaviors and emotions, in addition to physical symptoms (e.g. insomnia).
Health guidelines for maintaining the mental health of older adults:
Encourage communicating with others: 
One of the biggest challenges one experiences in later life is keeping connected to the surrounding community, even for those having a vigorous social life. In addition, professional changes, retirement, diseases, loss of the loved ones, and relocation or moving away from the family, friends and relatives—all those factors impact the older persons’ mental health. It is important to find channels of communication with others, and to keep the older adults surrounded by caring and supporting persons, to protect them from solitude and depression.
Finding joy in everyday activities: 
  • Protect the older adults from solitude, and share social activities with them;
  • Do an old activity, or try a new one;
  • Play with grandchildren or pets;
  • Learn something new (a foreign language or a new game);
  • Get involved in social activities (e.g. volunteering or attending local events);
  • Join health or social clubs;
  • Travel to new places;
  • Spend some time enjoying the nature;
  • Enjoy arts (e.g. visit a museum);
  • Write your diaries;
  • Read books.

Clinical Education General Department

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