Happy Aging - Senior Mental Health Has Unique Challenges

As a society, we’ve been making great progress towards removing the stigma that is attached to mental health.

Unfortunately, senior mental health has its own unique challenges that many of us cannot yet recognize. It’s common for family members to confuse a senior loved one’s symptoms of apathy, depression and anxiety as symptoms of dementia rather than a mental health issue.

While there have been advances in mental health treatment over the last few decades, a stigma still exists around addressing it. Seniors may feel especially reluctant to bring up these issues as they may be dismissed or grouped with other physiological conditions and ignored. What’s worse is that mental health has an impact on physical health and vice versa. Left untreated, depression can cause further damage to a senior’s already declining health.

In this post we will outline possible causes and symptoms of depression, apathy, and anxiety in seniors. We will also discuss how you can ensure your senior loved ones love life and age as happily as they can.

 

Possible Causes of Depression and Anxiety in Seniors

Depression and Anxiety in seniors can be caused by the many changes that aging brings. These changes can be physical, mental and emotional.

As an aging senior loses their mobility, or experiences memory decline, they can feel like they are losing their independence. Not being able to rely solely on themselves, they have to learn to allow their children and/or caregivers to assist them with basic daily tasks.

Accepting that they need help can be an emotional burden for aging seniors to carry as they feel like a weight on their families’ or communities’ shoulders, rather than contributing members.

The Alzheimer's Society has outlined these possible causes of depression and anxiety:

  • Lack of social support or social isolation - perhaps because they can no longer get out as much.

  • Bereavement.

  • Lack of meaningful tasks with feelings of boredom and aimlessness.

  • Feeling stressed or worried over issues such as money, relationships or the future.

  • The effects of certain illnesses or the side-effects of medication - agitation may be caused by pain, hunger or an infection, for example.

 

Encourage Physical Fitness

Physical activity is important throughout our lifetime as it helps to maintain bone health, and muscles. It also reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression while improving mood and a sense of well-being.

Since aging can cause seniors to lose bone density, muscle mass, and can lead to joint pain, physical activity is especially important for seniors to maintain healthy bodies and minds. It also helps them maintain their independence and reduces the risk of falls.

Physical activity for seniors should be tailored to their specific abilities. To maintain happiness, aging seniors should identify and perform activities they enjoy. Activities they may enjoy that offer physical health benefits are walking a pet, swimming, gardening or yard work. Among adults aged 65 years and older, walking and gardening or yard work are the most popular physical activities.

Involving friends or family members in the physical activity can increase motivation and turn exercise into a social activity, which will assist in increasing mood and motivation.

Seniors should consult their doctor or physical therapist to create or review their exercise programs to ensure they are being active at an appropriate level to avoid injury and get the most positive health benefits.

 

Encourage Healthy Eating

Healthy eating is crucial in sustaining a happy and healthy lifestyle at any age.

According to the Canadian Medical Association Journal, a healthy diet should consist of high fibre and lean protein with supplements like calcium and magnesium mixed in with a doctor’s approval.

Appetite can decrease with age since seniors may not be as active as they were in their 20s and 30s, and they have a lower resting metabolic rate.

While some decline in appetite is normal, a significant loss of appetite that leads to weight loss can be detrimental for senior health. The causes for seniors losing their appetites can be psychological or physical. Psychological causes can be due to depression or a chemical imbalance. Physical causes can be the result of medical disorders such as congestive heart failure or diabetes. In either case, consulting with your senior loved ones’ doctor to assess the reason for weight loss or reduced appetite is important.

Seniors may be feeling depressed due to loneliness, which can result in a lack of desire to eat. Arranging to have family members or caregivers eat with your senior loved ones can help make the activity fun and something to look forward to. Cooking together is also a great form of social activity, and if your senior loved one has trouble preparing their own meals, the family members or caregivers can help prepare meals.

Cooking a senior’s favourite meals or a dish from their past is also a fun way to help them remember their past and build excitement around eating.

For more information about a healthy and well-balanced diet for aging seniors, read our blog post about 6 Lifestyle Elements here.

 

Stay Connected

It’s important that seniors stay connected to their loved ones and feel that they have a purpose in their family and/or community. Seniors can take care of grandchildren, great-grandchildren and volunteer if possible.

Regular social activity and family member visits are important factors in the sustainable mental health of seniors.

Seniors can join an activity centre or support group to help them through the challenges and changes of aging. Being surrounded by others in similar situations builds a sense of trust and inclusion. It can also help them open up about personal issues they may have kept hidden, which will help them work through those issues.

If your senior loved one is struggling to find or maintain happiness, they could also try Art Therapy sessions. Read our recent post about Art Therapy to understand the many ways that art helps seniors express themselves, alleviate depression, and increase social engagement.

 

Professional Preparation and Training

It’s important that we prepare ourselves, society, and health providers for the growing needs of older populations. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the world’s population is aging rapidly. “Between 2015 and 2050, the proportion of the population over 60 years will nearly double (WHO). That’s almost 2 billion people aged over 60.

Ninety percent of seniors want to age in the comfort of home. Mavencare is dedicated to providing them with hospital quality care at home so that this is possible. Our app technology also gives families peace of mind because it keeps them connected with their loved ones’ care. For more information on how Mavencare can help your aging loved ones live their best life, visit our website or call us 24/7 at 1-800-85-MAVEN.

Professional preparation includes training for caregivers and nurses to provide the highest quality of care for masses of aging seniors. We’ve developed MavenU, an online training platform, so that our caregivers have access to the most up-to-date standards of care. Professional preparation also includes preventing and managing age-associated chronic diseases.

 

Have Open Conversations

It is important to begin having conversations about your senior loved ones’ elder care plans as soon as possible. Many seniors put off elder care planning because they think it takes away their rights or independence. In reality, discussing their elder care plan while they’re physically and mentally capable gives them control of their future plans and desires as they age.

Read our blog post about Elder Care Planning to learn more and get started today.

A sudden health change can cause unforeseen pressure on a senior’s entire family and could be a potential cause of depression for aging seniors. Talking openly and putting a plan in place allows you and your senior loved ones to mentally prepare for the unforeseen health changes and/or worst case scenarios.

If you or your senior loved ones need help to have these more difficult conversations, you can involve a doctor, therapist, mediator, or family friend with an objective view. You could also call one of our senior care coordinators to talk through care options 24/7 at 1-800-85-MAVEN.

 

Overall, we’ve been making great progress towards creating a world where seniors get the support they need to continue living their best lives. With the rapidly aging population, we need to continue pushing forward.

If your senior loved one needs stimulating conversation and someone to do activities with, they’re seeking companionship. At Mavencare, we understand that finding and managing quality care for your loved ones can be difficult. We offer different levels of care and all of our caregivers are highly skilled and compassionate. They are also trained to handle specialized health concerns such as anxiety, depression, and dementia.

Call one of our senior care coordinators today to learn more about companionship care and how it can offer respite for your family and friendship for your aging loved ones. 1-800-85-MAVEN.

 

Resources

https://www.alz.org/help-support/caregiving/stages-behaviors/depression

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3039168/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4123225/

http://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/mental-health-of-older-adults

http://www.who.int/

http://www.cmaj.ca/search/seniors

http://www.aging.com/the-way-of-living-being-happy-and-healthy-at-an-old-age/