Various advertisements for seniors – often involving sailing or hiking – celebrate that it is no small accomplishment to live long enough to become old. It’s so true, and worth a smile every time. With mounting milestones, we know that aging doesn’t get any easier due to evolving physical and mental health considerations. It is important to understand this late-life stage for yourself and your loved ones.
Services for seniors have advanced through the decades and the needs will be greater than ever. Due to the aging baby boomers and increases in life expectancy, the senior population is dramatically increasing.
The number of adults aged 65 and older will almost double between 2005 and 2030 from 37 million to more than 70 million, accounting for a population increase of 12 to 20 percent. Consequently, if the prevalence of mental health disorders among older adults remains unchanged, the number of older adults with mental and substance use disorders will nearly double from about 8 million to about 14 million over the next two decades, as noted in Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) curriculum.
MHFA is a public health education training that teaches participants how to recognize symptoms of mental health problems, how to provide initial help, and how to guide a person toward appropriate treatments and other supportive help.
Information from MHFA points out that most older adults go through their later years in good mental health while they experience circumstances that can elevate their risk for mental illness. Depression and anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health problems that develop, and one in four people 55 and older experience a mental health disorder that is not part of the normal aging process.
A concerning statistic is that fewer than 40 percent of older adults with mental or substance use disorders (SUD) get treatment. Further, those who receive treatment from primary care physicians were provided adequate care only 15 percent of the time.
In any event, it is important to advance your general knowledge about common health conditions that raise the risk for late-life mental health problems. They include: heart disease and recent heart attack, COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), migraines, thyroid disease, stroke, brain injury, diabetes, cancer, arthritis, acute chronic infection, dementia, conditions reducing mobility and function, conditions that are painful, and use of multiple medications.
In turn, common life circumstances raise the risk for late-life mental health and substance use problems. Those include: onset of pain and disability, sensory deficits (vision and hearing loss), loss of loved ones, retirement or job loss, financial difficulties, mobility and functional challenges, change in lifestyle or living arrangements, threats to independence and autonomy, loss of social supports, challenges to self-esteem, cognitive changes, fear or prolonged distress, sleep disturbances, decline in health status, uses of certain over-the-counter or prescription medications or multiple medication use, prior depressive episode or family history of depression, providing care to a dependent person, and extended or longstanding bereavement.
So many factors
As you read these lists, you may instantly recognize signs and symptoms in yourself or your relations. For older adults, it is also good to know that mental health problems often “co-exist” with other health problems, and, most of all, remember that people are never too old to recover and have better quality lives.
To get more information about our metro Denver mental health centers visit communityreachcenter.org or call 303-853-3500. We have centers in the northside Denver metro area including the cities of Thornton, Westminster, Northglenn, Commerce City and Brighton. Additionally, our website has a link to sign up for free Mental Health First Aid courses.