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Aging And Mental Health

Aging and Mental Health

Aging is an essential and inevitable part of life. It is an unavoidable human process of growing older through the lapse of time. Sometimes it interferes with our mental health during the process that can pose a range of challenges for the individual.

Aging & Mental Health

Mental health is a growing concern globally. Older people are at higher risk of having mental health problems and consequently having higher rates of disability and mortality. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention 1 , mental health disorders affect almost 20% of older adults in the U.S. Although mental health conditions are not a part of aging, they are still prevalent in some older adults. One of the most common conditions in older adults is cognitive impairment or dementia. A 2018 study 2 found that the prevalence of cognitive impairment is greater than 40% in elderly adults.

Aging can be a scary thing. Feeling anxious about being alone as you age or the changes in your physical and mental health is quite common. Normalizing the aging process and realizing that everyone else is also aging can go a long way in stabilizing the mental health concerns associated with this phenomenon.

Signs Of Mental Illness In Older Adults

Signs Of Mental Illness In Older Adults
Aging And Mental Health


Aging is a natural process. As an individual grows older, forgetfulness becomes a part of life. However, if it is persistent, it is important to pay attention to the signs in order to begin the treatment process. Some of the signs of mental illness in older adults are as follows:

  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Lack of concentration
  • Unable to make decisions
  • Depressive mood lasting more than two weeks
  • Memory loss
  • Social withdrawal
  • Unexplainable physical problems such as headache, constipation
  • Insomnia
  • Unexplained fatigue

Risk Factors For Mental Health Disorders In Older Adults

Although aging can cause stress in older people, normal emotional ups and downs may feel challenging to deal with. Some of the risk factors that increases the risk of developing mental health conditions are as follows:

  • Alcohol or substance abuse
  • Long term illness such as cancer
  • Loss of a loved one
  • Physical disability or lack of mobility
  • Chronic pain
  • Dementia
  • Lack of healthy diet or malnutrition

Dementia And Aging

Dementia And Aging
Aging And Mental Health


Dementia is a condition characterized by a deterioration in thinking, behavior, and memory. It is a progressive syndrome often associated with aging. According to research 3 , dementia is described as a clinical diagnosis involving “an overall decline in memory and other thinking skills severe enough to reduce a person’s ability to perform everyday activities.” Although some degree of memory weakness is normal in older age, the term dementia is usually used to denote memory decline and forgetfulness in this age group. A 2016 study 4 pointed out that normal aging involves many cognitive changes including variations in memory, executive function, reasoning, spatial abilities, attention, and language abilities. A 2015 study 5 found that an estimated 1.3% of the entire UK population or 7.1% of those aged 65 or above, have dementia.

Symptoms of dementia

Since the symptoms start to appear gradually, the cognitive decline often goes unnoticed. Often these forgetful behaviors are mistaken as part of the aging process. Some of the signs of this condition can include:

  • Short term memory loss
  • Rapid mood swings
  • Unable to find the right words
  • Lack of interest in activities or hobbies
  • Confusion
  • Unable to complete daily activities such as balancing a checkbook
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty in adopting changes

Coping with dementia

Even with such challenges with aging, it is possible to prevent dementia. Adopting certain lifestyle changes can improve cognitive health. Some of them include:

  • Quit smoking
  • Exercise regularly
  • Engage in reading, doing puzzles or memory games
  • Eating a nutritious and balanced diet

Depression And Aging

Aging And Mental Health
Aging And Mental Health


Although depression is a common mood disorder, it is not a part of the aging process. Depression is a condition characterized by a persistent feeling of sadness lasting more than two weeks that interferes with the day-to-day functioning of the individual. Studies 6 have shown that most older adults lead fulfilling lives despite having illnesses or physical problems. A 2001 study 7 found that among inpatients and outpatients in a geriatric mood disorder unit, 52% were found to be with the first onset at age 60 or older. Another 2001 report 8 also pointed out that older adults with late-onset depression are more likely to have vascular risk factors including cerebrovascular disease.

Symptoms of depression

Recognizing depression in older adults may be challenging since they show different signs than younger people. Some of the signs of depression in older adults include:

  • Grumpy or irritated
  • Inconsistent sleeping patterns
  • Confusion
  • Lack of attention
  • Lack of interest in activities
  • Inconsistent eating patterns
  • Fatigue
  • Unexplained physical issues such as digestive problems or aches and pains

Treatment of depression

The first step towards recovery is recognizing the problem. Treatment is possible with therapy and medications. Some of the treatment options include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Group counseling
  • Medications such as antidepressants

Some lifestyle changes may also help in preventing depression. They include:

  • Get regular exercise to increase the production of endorphins
  • Follow a healthy sleeping pattern
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Manage stress

Read More About Treatment Of Depression Here.

Anxiety And Aging

Anxiety And Aging
Aging And Mental Health


Anxiety disorders are not a normal part of the aging process. Anxiety is a condition characterized by elevated amounts of stress, worry, or fear that ultimately interfere with the day-to-day functioning of the individual. This disorder impairs the quality of life and may increase the risk for developing other serious conditions such as depression, dementia, or heart disease. Sometimes the anxiety symptoms go unnoticed in older adults since it develops gradually. Research suggests that at least 4% of older adults are affected by anxiety.

Symptoms of anxiety

Adults more than 60 years of age are more likely to experience physical symptoms of anxiety. Some of these signs include:

  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Lack of concentration
  • Restlessness
  • Avoiding situations that trigger anxiety
  • Worrying about physical conditions – the fear of being diagnosed with a medical problem
  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Increased heart rate due to panic

Some of the risk factors of developing anxiety in old age are:

  • Medical problems
  • Chronic pain
  • Loss of a loved one
  • Financial changes due to retirement

Treatment for anxiety

Treatment for aging-related anxiety is a combination of medication and therapy. Some of the treatment methods are as follows:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Group counseling
  • Antidepressant medications such as escitalopram or paroxetine
  • Benzodiazepines such as diazepam and clonazepam

It is possible to treat anxiety once it’s diagnosed. Numerous reports 9 found that chronic anxiety is detrimental to the cognitive and psychological health of older adults. Certain lifestyle changes can also help the patient to manage the symptoms. Reports have shown efficacy in adopting these major lifestyle changes in managing anxiety symptoms. Some of the options include:

  • Relaxation techniques 10
  • Mindfulness training 11
  • Bibliotherapy 12
  • Regular exercise 13
  • Healthy diet 14

Bipolar Disorder And Aging

Bipolar Disorder And Aging
Aging And Mental Health


Bipolar disorder is a condition characterized by extreme mood swings and high levels of energy. A 2015 report 15 found that almost 25% of people with bipolar disorder are at least 60 years old.

Symptoms of bipolar disorder

Some of the symptoms of bipolar disorder in older adults are as follows:

  • Changes in cognitive functioning
  • Difficulties with memory
  • Difficulty solving problems
  • Irritability
  • Depression

An older adult above 60 who is suspected of bipolar disorder requires a full medical workup that includes past conditions, medical and family history. It is essential to pay special attention while treating older adults with bipolar disorders. Aging-related bipolar disorder 16 can be challenging to manage. Older adults may metabolize or tolerate medications differently than younger adults. Treatment is complicated, particularly for this age group, since doctors need to evaluate drug interactions consumed by the patient.

Treatment for bipolar disorder

Some of the treatment methods for bipolar disorder in older adults are:

  • Antidepressants
  • Corticosteroids
  • Mood stabilizers
  • Anti-anxiety medications
  • Psychotherapy

Read More About Bipolar Disorder Here

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) And Aging

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) And Aging
Aging And Mental Health


Obsessive compulsive disorder is a condition characterized by recurrent obsessive thoughts, ideas, or sensations that make them feel driven to compulsions. When these compulsions become severe, they may interfere with the day-to-day life of the individual. For instance, if an older adult is obsessed with being contaminated with dirt or germs, they may wash their hands more frequently than necessary. A 2009 study 17 found that older adults with OCD were more likely to be men compared to those having anxiety disorders or mood disorders.

Symptoms of OCD

Some of the signs of OCD are:

  • Fear of being contaminated with germs
  • Fear of losing control
  • Afraid of harming oneself or others
  • Double-checking things
  • Superstitious

Coping with OCD

In case you are experiencing signs of OCD, there are several measures you can take to manage the urge or compulsion. They are as follows:

  • Identify your triggers
  • Practice resisting your compulsion
  • Challenge your obsessive thoughts
  • Get professional help
  • Practice relaxation techniques
  • Exercise regularly
  • Maintain sleep hygiene

Treatment for OCD

There are several treatment options that are used to treat patients with OCD. Some of the common treatment options are:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Medications

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) And Aging

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) And Aging
Aging And Mental Health


Experts believe that people with PTSD may be at risk of accelerated aging. Post-traumatic stress disorder is a condition that is triggered by a traumatic or terrifying event. Some of the symptoms of this condition are:

  • Flashbacks of the traumatic event
  • Nightmares
  • Severe anxiety
  • Uncontrollable thoughts about the event
  • Recurrent or unwanted distressing memories

Some of the treatment methods for this condition are as follows:

Read More About Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Here

Recovery From Aging-related Mental Health Disorders

Identifying the key symptoms of mental health disorders is the first step towards recovery. Identification will help to develop a treatment plan to manage the symptoms of the conditions. Medication, therapy, and lifestyle changes can be very effective in treating patients with aging-related mental health disorders. This will allow them to cope and improve their quality of life.

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References:
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/aging/pdf/mental_health.pdf []
  2. Soleimani, R., Shokrgozar, S., Fallahi, M., Kafi, H., & Kiani, M. (2018). An investigation into the prevalence of cognitive impairment and the performance of older adults in Guilan province. Journal of medicine and life, 11(3), 247–253. https://doi.org/10.25122/jml-2018-0017 []
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