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Supporting Seniors with Mental Health Conditions

When thinking of age-related health issues, physical infirmity probably springs to most people’s minds; however, seniors are also prone to mental health disorders. Another exciting transition is retirement, which many people anticipate with enthusiasm but might trigger or exacerbate mental health issues. 

Although there are insufficient studies into seniors’ mental health, those that do exist expose cause for concern. For example, almost one-fourth of seniors in the United States are believed to be socially isolated and approximately two-thirds don’t get the mental health treatment they need. Assisted living facilities provide safe, secure and sociable homes with staff trained to care for residents with mental health issues. This guide provides an overview of the mental health conditions that seniors typically face and how assisted living can help. 


Common Mental Health Conditions That Impact Seniors 

Some mental health conditions are common among seniors. Given their general prevalence, however, there are often a variety of ways to treat them. 


Anxiety Disorders 

An anxiety disorder may make a senior become so anxious that dealing with everyday life becomes a challenge. Common symptoms you may notice include uncontrollable fear, obsessive thinking, insomnia, increased heartbeat and headaches. It is estimated that anywhere from 3% to 14% of America’s older adults have a diagnosable anxiety disorder. This could be due to one or more risk factors most relevant to the senior population, such as bereavement, reduced mobility and financial insecurity. Fortunately, anxiety can be effectively treated by medications and psychotherapy. 


Bipolar Disorder 

Most people with bipolar disorder experience severe mood swings that include manic highs and depressive lows. The precise cause for these swings isn’t known, but genetics, a chemical imbalance in the brain, childhood trauma and stressful life events are believed to be factors. Around 25% of people with bipolar disorder are aged 60+, and this figure is projected to exceed 50% by 2030. Seniors should visit their doctor if they think they’re experiencing symptoms of bipolar disorder. 


Depression 

Depression is a medical condition that can cause someone to continuously experience feelings such as sadness, hopelessness and apathy for lengthy periods — typically weeks or longer. Significant events, such as losing a loved one, can lead to depression in the elderly. Depression affects 1% to 5% of seniors, rising to 11.5% of those hospitalized and 13.5% in those receiving home care. It can be treated with psychotherapy and/or antidepressant drugs. 


Eating Disorders 

Eating disorders typically appear in early adulthood (age 18 for bulimia and anorexia and 21 for binge eating disorder) and may continue into the retirement years. As we age and our metabolism slows down and hormone levels decrease, it can become a challenge to lose weight, and seniors who aren’t used to carrying a few extra pounds may develop unhealthy habits with food. Health risks associated with eating disorders include heart disease, hypertension and diabetes. Seniors should speak to a doctor if they’re concerned about their relationship to food, as common treatments include psychotherapy, nutritional counseling and medications.



Risks Factors for Mental Health Conditions in 

Seniors 

The World Health Organization (WHO) states 15% of adults aged 60 and older have a mental  disorder. Many factors can trigger these disorders: Alzheimer’s: Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia affecting more than 6 million Americans 

as of 2022. Changes in the brain resulting from age, as well as environmental, lifestyle 

and genetic factors, are believed to play a part. 

Chronic Pain: Chronic pain is pain that lasts longer than expected as part of the healing 

process (usually pain lasting over 3 months). Persistent pain can cause mental health 

conditions such as depression and anxiety. 

Chronic Stress: Chronic stress is persistently feeling overwhelmed or pressured. Factors 

such as worrying about developing dementia, personal finances and losing 

independence are known contributors. 

Elder Abuse: Around 1 in 10 adults aged 60 and older have suffered elder abuse in their 

community. Based on self-reports from residents, the most common type in residential 

care is psychological abuse (33.4%) and the least common is sexual abuse (1.9%). 

Physical Health: Deteriorating physical health is known to affect seniors’ psychological 

health. Arthritis is a common condition that may impact mental health, with 49.6% of 

adults aged 65+ reporting a diagnosis. 


Warning Signs of Mental Health Disorders in Seniors 

Loved ones and caregivers are often the first people to notice that a senior may be struggling with a psychological condition.

Signs to look out for include: 

Loss of temper and argumentative behavior 

Appears unusually angry, scared or upset 

Feelings of desperation or helplessness 

Loss of sleep or sleep pattern changes 

Loss of appetite 

Experiences pains that can’t be explained 

A lack of emotion 

Extended depression 

Substance misuse 

Thoughts of self-harm, suicide or hurting others 

Housing Options for Seniors Living With Mental 

Health Conditions 

Seniors living with mental health conditions don’t need to suffer alone.


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