July 18th 2022
Dr. Jennifer Osborne
We all want to thrive in our later years. Yet many older adults suffer from mental illness and it often goes unrecognized or untreated.
Aging comes with many unique challenges. There can be loses and changes. Grieving the death of family and friends. Adjusting to retirement after a long and fulfilling career. A change in living environment and loss of independence. New financial worries. New or worsening medical illness. Declines in function or abilities. Just to name a few.
Addressing mental health in the elderly requires looking at this whole picture. How do these many factors impact one’s mental health? And in turn how does our mental health impact our function and ability to thrive later in life?
Some common mental health issues that can occur as we age include:
- depression and other mood disorders
- anxiety disorders
- cognitive disorders including dementia
- substance abuse
Early recognition and intervention are key.
Unfortunately, mental health is often overlooked and undertreated among older adults and senior citizens. This may be due to reluctance to seek treatment related to stigma. It may also be because mental health care often takes a “back seat” to other pressing medical needs in this age group. Access to mental health care can also be a challenge for many due to lack of transportation, functional limitations, or financial barriers. By improving education, community outreach, and availability of care we can begin to help.
Let me provide you with one example: Jane is a 72-year-old retired teacher. She lost her husband of 49 years ago this past year. Even though it is going on a year since his passing, she is still grieving and finds herself tearful and isolating often. She is also grieving the loss of the life they built together. Most of their social activities and travel plans had been together. She had not considered going through these times alone. It has just been easier to stop doing them all together. In recent months she finds herself worrying much more. She has started to worry more about her own health. Her primary care doctor recently started her on medication for blood pressure and for her thyroid. It is hard now to remember to take medications every day and at certain times she finds that she may miss a few days a week. Her doctor has asked her to come in more frequently to monitor these conditions. She has become less comfortable driving distances too far from her home, so she has not followed up with the frequency that was recommended.
She is starting to have difficulty falling asleep and will lay awake at night letting her many worries spin around in her head. She started having 2-3 drinks in the evenings to help calm her nerves. Jane isolates more in her home now which has worried family. Her only daughter lives out of town but has picked up on some concerns. She has noticed her mom making errors paying her bills and wonders if she is eating well enough. Jane admittedly reports having lost some weight and has lost interest in food. Planning and preparing meals for just one person is just not worth it in her mind. Her daughter has started to put some pressure on her to consider a move to an assisted living facility. She thinks she would do better with more social activity; however, Jane cannot imagine leaving her home and the memories that come with it.
Jane’s story has many common themes. How can we help Jane and others with similar struggles?
Appropriate screening and assessment for mental health concerns are what is needed.
An assessment which considers the whole patient. Including incorporating their medical and cognitive diagnoses. Including social, environmental, financial stressors, and functional impairment. Treatment options should include a multidisciplinary approach, which includes collaboration with their other physicians or care providers and may include medications or talk therapy as well as interventions within their family systems or environment.
Family Care Center has a mission to improve access to mental health care for all who need it. We aim to provide a broad range of services to best assess and treat mental health concerns. A collaborative team of psychiatrists, psychologists, and licensed therapists work together to best address your individual needs. Everyone deserves a chance to thrive as they age or at any stage of life.