We all have mental health and we all need to take care of it, especially as we get older. It affects how we think feel and behave as well as determining how we handle stress, relate to others and make choices. Our mental health changes over time so we need to stay up to date we how to handle changes in our emotional wellbeing.
Are there many triggers for mental health challenges?
There are several potential triggers for mental challenges in the elderly, for example; physical disabilities, long-term illness (e.g. cancer or heart disease), dementia, change of environment, illness or loss of a loved one, medications and alcohol or substance abuse.
The most common condition that is spoken about when talking about the elderly is dementia/alzheimer’s disease; however, this is not the only challenge that people face when getting older. It is common for some older people to develop several different mental health challenges and it is just as important for older people to get help as it is for younger people.
Elderly people can develop any number of mental health challenges, the following are some which are more well-known:
Depression is the most common mental health challenge in older people. This can develop due to lots of reasons, such as, loss of a loved one or friend, changes in surroundings, physical disabilities and many other reasons.
Older adults can present with the same symptoms as younger adults: Core symptoms (low mood, reduced enjoyment, lack of energy), psychological symptoms (low self-esteem, hopelessness/guilt, suicidal thoughts), and biological symptoms (reduced appetite, weight loss, feeling lower in morning, early wakening, reduced sleep, poor concentration, agitation or slowness).
Anxiety challenges are common in older people, and can happen alongside depression. Anxiety can develop due to lots of reasons, such as, loss of a loved one or friend, changes in surroundings, physical disabilities and many other reasons, just like depression.
Fears or worries about aging is popular among older people, as lots of things begin to change. Health worries and issues are common and come hand in hand with aging, as our bodies are not always what they used to be. Mobility can decrease and weight can fluctuate and change which can cause stress. There are lots of causes of anxiety in older people and it cannot always be pinpointed down to one thing.
Bereavement can happen to anyone at any age, but it is still important for older people to recognise that you can still get help regardless of your age. If you’ve has a death of a loved one, family member or friend, it is important to remember that the feelings you may be having are not bad or wrong. They are a normal part of bereavement and there aren’t any easily found reasons to explain how you’re feeling.
You could feel fear, anxiety, depression, anger, guilt and loneliness. These are all perfectly normal and you can get help to cope with them from several services. You may even find that you’re struggling to keep on top of things you would normally do day to day like housework. This is all normal, and help is out there for you, you can check out our services pages here for a list of services who can help.
Insomnia is something that can happen as we all get older; there are lots of reasons why insomnia could develop and everyone’s circumstances are different. Key causes for insomnia can include: going through menopause for women, other hormonal changes, changes in brain activity, changes in natural sleep patterns (time of the year- days getting longer/shorter), medications, social changes, anxiety and depression.
If you’re suffering with insomnia, regardless of age, it is recommended that you seek some help; this can be by going to your local GP or referring yourself to mental health services which will be happy to help.
- Social Isolation and Loneliness
Social Isolation and Loneliness are two different concepts, but often go hand in hand when it comes to mental health. Social Isolation refers to the separation from social or familial contact, community involvement or access to services. Loneliness however, can be understood as a person having a feeling of a sense of lacking of these things to the extent where they are wanted or needed. Both challenges can go hand in hand although they are different.
It is possible for someone to be isolated without feeling lonely, and lonely without being isolated. For example, an older person could be physically isolated (living on one’s own, not seeing many people) without feeling lonely, a person could be isolated by choice and want physical separation. In a similar way, someone could feel lonely when surrounded by lots of other people. For example, if someone has experienced a loss and family has gathered for support, you can still feel lonely.
The good news is that there are lots of ways that this can be helped. There are lots of services around that have been created in order to improve loneliness and social isolation, all of which can offer helpful advice and support; some often host events which can bring people suffering in the same way together. You can check out lots of support services available on our Who Else Can Help Me? Page.
Dementia is a syndrome (a group of related symptoms) associated with an ongoing decline of brain functioning. This may include problems with memory loss, thinking speed, mental sharpness and quickness, language, understanding, judgement, mood, movement and difficulties carrying out daily activities
There are many different causes of dementia. People often get confused about the difference between Alzheimer's disease and dementia.
Alzheimer's disease is a type of dementia and, together with vascular dementia (caused by reduced blood flow to the brain), makes up the vast majority of cases. There are several things that people suffering with dementia can experience. For example:
- They can become apathetic or uninterested in their usual activities, or may have problems controlling their emotions.
- Social situations could be found challenging and interest in socializing can be lost.
- Aspects of their personality may change.
- They may lose empathy (understanding and compassion), they may see or hear things that other people do not (hallucinations).
- Losing the ability to remember events or fully understand their environment or situations, it can seem as if they're not telling the truth, or are wilfully ignoring problems, when they actually cannot remember.
- As dementia affects a person's mental abilities, they may find planning and organising difficult.
- Maintaining a person with dementia’s independence may also become a problem; someone with dementia will therefore usually need help from friends or relatives, including help with decision making.
Suffering with dementia can take its toll on you and the people around you, but the good thing is that there are support services out there to help you and give advice and help you through tough times. Check out our Who Else Can Help Me? page for more services!
If you are worried that you or someone you know may have a mental health challenge, visit your GP for support and you can access the following websites for more information:
- AgeUK - Age UK's vision is to make the UK a great place to grow older. They do this by inspiring, supporting and enabling in a number of ways.
- Alzheimer's Society - This site has great information about getting help and getting involved in supporting people with Alzheimer's.
- Dementia UK - This site offers support and helpful information about dementia and how you can get in touch for more help and info.
Mental health challenges are common but help is available and with the right support many people recover completely. Check out our Who Can Help Page for lots of services who are local and national!