Helping Seniors With Mental Health Needs

Published: May 29, 2023 | Blog

Seniors are more vulnerable than most Americans to mental health issues. As people age, they often experience memory problems and cognitive decline on top of negative life experiences like losing loved ones, including partners, friends, or even children.

The CDC estimates that 20% of adults aged 55+ have some kind of mental health issue. Both anxiety and common mood disorders such as depression can get in the way of anyone’s ability to live a fulfilling, independent life. Mental health problems can exacerbate physical issues, impair social functioning, and complicate treatment plans.

Mental Health Problems Are Not Normal

While it’s not rare for seniors to experience some level of memory problems and cognitive decline as they age, those minor issues should not be conflated with common but quite serious mental health problems like depression and anxiety. These issues are not normal at any age. The good news is that there are plenty of ways to enhance mental wellness in older adults.

Friends, family members, and caregivers who have become aware of the problem may want to get together to discuss a plan for offering support and increasing well-being. Depending on the relationship each person has with the affected senior, one or more of the tips below may help.

Create Opportunities for Connection

Loneliness is one of the worst things for people’s mental health, and unfortunately, many American seniors live alone. Spending time socializing with loved ones is the most important thing that anyone can do, regardless of the person’s mental health status. Discussing the benefits of moving to a community where they will be surrounded by other healthy older adults can also help.

Adopt a Pet

Some seniors find that having a pet offers an opportunity for a different kind of companionship. It also gives pet owners opportunities to lower stress levels, increase fitness, and find opportunities for making new human friends. Studies show that pet ownership directly decreases feelings of loneliness associated with depression not just in seniors but among all age cohorts.

Encourage New Hobbies

Learning new things isn’t an activity that’s relegated to youth. Seniors can benefit just as much, if not more, from finding hobbies and engaging in them regularly, especially if they involve time with friends. Many personal hobbies can even give a boost to neuroplasticity, the mechanism by which nerve cells reconnect and change the brain’s structure through repetition. Strengthening neuronal pathways associated with well-being can help to deprioritize those responsible for depressed and anxious thoughts.

Find time to Exercise

All older adults should be aiming to get at least 15-20 minutes of exercise per day. Most find it easier to get up and get moving in the context of structured or semi-structured classes. However, even having an exercise buddy can offer a lot of motivation. Seniors who want to encourage their friends to get healthy, too, can set up times to get together for exercise sessions either in person or virtually, or even make arrangements to call each other daily to discuss how an exercise plan is going.

Taking Advantage of Available Resources

Gone are the days when people believed that being able to tough it out through depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses was a sign of personal strength. Now, most Americans of all ages understand that as with any physical illness, mental illnesses usually require treatment in one form or another if they are going to get better. What that looks like will vary by person, of course.

Seniors with serious or difficult-to-manage mental health conditions such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or personality disorders usually need the help of a licensed clinician. Medications and ongoing therapy are almost always required to treat them. For depression and anxiety, a combination of approaches may be best. 

Encourage loved ones to take advantage of resources such as exercise groups, health and wellness classes, peer support through socializing with friends, and, if necessary, a visit to the doctor to discuss pharmaceutical interventions. Younger family members and friends offering support can make a big difference when it comes to an elderly loved one’s decisions regarding their own mental health care.

It’s Time to Make a Positive Change

No one is going to start feeling better without making some life changes first. For many seniors, moving into independent living is all it takes to start making positive changes that alleviate depression, anxiety, and other common mental health issues. The Chelsea at Bald Eagle even goes a step beyond other senior living communities to offer active and intentional wellness sessions for residents. We believe that people of all ages deserve to get the help they need with managing mental illness and embracing wellness. Call (973) 728-6000 to schedule a tour.