May is Mental Health Awareness Month and an excellent time to spotlight mental health challenges among seniors. In the past, both caregivers and medical providers may have overlooked mental health concerns in seniors. Older patients tend to focus on physical health concerns and may be hesitant to report symptoms of anxiety and depression to their doctors. However, a growing body of research shows that mental illness can negatively impact seniors’ physical health and quality of life. Getting an accurate diagnosis is essential so families and providers can address the problem. Awareness about mental health challenges for seniors is improving and changing how we meet residents’ needs in long-term care.
What Are Common Mental Health Concerns In Seniors?
The CDC estimates that 20 percent of people 55 and older experience mental health concerns. Dementia, depression, and anxiety are the big three in seniors. Suicide is also a concern: older men have the highest rate of suicide in the nation.
Depression: According to the CDC, depression is the most common mental health problem in older adults. Depression can impact how seniors manage chronic illness and may limit access to needed healthcare. It can interfere with eating, maintaining their household, working, and personal relationships. According to the CDC, risk factors for late-onset depression include:
Low educational attainment (less than high school)
Impaired functional status
Heavy alcohol consumption.
Anxiety disorder is another prevalent health issue among older adults. According to the Geriatric Mental Health Foundation, anxiety disorder is characterized by feelings of fear, worry, apprehension, or dread. According to GMHF, anxiety affects 10 to 20 percent of the older adult population, with many cases remaining undiagnosed. Like depression, anxiety in older adults is underdiagnosed. Medical conditions and other factors, including grief and loss, may contribute to late-onset anxiety. In older adults, anxiety, and depression often go hand in hand.
Are Alzheimer’s and Dementia Mental Health Conditions?
Dementia affects patients’ mental health, but the medical community does not consider it a mental illness. However, some of the concerns and needs for patients with dementia are similar to those with mental illness. The World Health Organization defines dementia as a syndrome in which there is deterioration in memory, thinking, behavior, and the ability to perform everyday activities. The cognitive impairments related to dementia mean that we need different approaches in caring for patients and loved ones.
How Can I Protect My Elderly Loved One’s Mental Health
Raising awareness among family and professional caregivers is one of the most vital steps we can take in meeting the mental health needs of seniors. Awareness includes recognizing signs of depression, anxiety, dementia, and other conditions. We should also be aware that many medications taken for physical health problems can impact mental health and cognitive function.
According to the CDC, adequate social and emotional support reduces the risk of mental illness, physical illness, and mortality. Providing social connections and support for seniors both at home and in long-term care settings is an essential part of overall wellness.
Meeting Seniors’ Mental Health Needs in Long Term Care
Caring for seniors with cognitive and mental health challenges has unique challenges. In recent years, the importance of meeting residents’ mental health needs in long-term care settings has come to the forefront. Successful strategies include:
Training nursing staff and aides to work with individuals with mental health challenges and equipping them to handle challenging behaviors from residents.
Offering training and support to prevent team members from becoming overwhelmed with mental health needs.
Focusing on building relationships with residents.
Careful use of prescription medications, considering mental health implications.
Creating separate memory care units with trained staff to work with patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s diagnoses.
Caring for Body and Mind at Evergreen Health & Rehab
The challenging pandemic year has brought home the profound need for social connection and relationship-building in long-term care settings. At Evergreen Health & Rehab, patients’ social and behavioral health has long been a priority. Efforts are being bolstered even further in the wake of the COVID crisis. Improved training and support are priorities, and communication with family members is more critical than ever.
In addition, Evergreen’s Journey Alzheimer’s care unit provides specialized care to individuals with Alzheimer’s and other memory challenges. Evergreen offers specialized training for nurses and aides to support Journey residents and help them live life to the fullest. We designed every aspect of the unit to provide safety, security and peace of mind. Our team works to create a soothing, home-like setting to support wellness and quality of life.