Taking care of one’s physical health and well-being is crucial as the body weakens as it grows older. However, one shouldn’t forget about mental health and wellness. Surveys reveal that at least one in four senior Americans suffers from some type of mental illness (e.g. depression, dementia, anxiety).
Remember, your mind is just as important as your body. Even if you were able to maintain good physical health and avoid most diseases associated with old age, you still wouldn’t be able to live comfortably if you’re not in the correct headspace.
Unfortunately, these issues become widespread among seniors as most elderly patients go undiagnosed. Older adults reject proper mental health treatments as these have been historically shamed and clinics have been negatively branded as loony bins—especially among their generation. That’s why many seniors live their lives without even visiting a therapist once.
However, if you want to achieve a truly higher quality of life, then taking care of your mental, emotional, psychological, and cognitive well-being should also be a priority. Just because you can’t see the symptoms doesn’t mean they don’t exist.
Still on the fence about the importance of mental health to seniors? Keep reading! By the end of this article, you’ll be able to pinpoint signs of mental instability, how to address them, and what you can do to prevent them from surfacing in the first place.
Early Signs of Mental Illnesses Among Seniors
Early care and treatment is the single most efficient way to address mental health illnesses and complications. Some warning signs that might indicate mental instability among the elderly include:
Rapidly fluctuating feelings and emotions are called mood swings. The shifting of one’s emotions is not uncommon, but if they occur daily and he/she always loses his/her cool every time that happens, professional medical help is a must.
Excessive moodiness may indicate several complications including anxiety, anger management disorder, or bipolarism, among others. Have a professional test you for these issues so you can get the necessary treatments right away. Trust us, mood swings affect everyone around you.
A very serious, yet sadly common, symptom of cognitive failure to watch out for is memory loss. This includes both short- and long-term memory lapses.
Frequent lapses in one’s memory may indicate cognitive failure and the development of complications such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. If left alone, these issues may become irreversible in the long run. That’s why one must get tested and treated as soon as he/she notices early indicators of memory complications.
Note, however, that memory lapses are not always linked to cognitive failure. This symptom can also be the result of too much stress, lack of sleep, excessive alcohol consumption, drug abuse, or thyroid issues.
Regularly feeling confused and detached from reality is a bad sign. This issue often manifests in the form of a breakdown. That’s why elderly individuals who feel detached or like they have no control over their bodies may go through severe depressive episodes and panic attacks.
Bear in mind that panic attacks are normal. As long as they’re manageable and only occur on rare occasions, self-observation may suffice.
However, if you find yourself breaking down more often than usual—or even regularly—consider seeking professional help. A trained, licensed expert can help identify your triggers
Poor Stress Coping Mechanism
It’s normal to feel overwhelmed during stressful situations. However, consistently being unable to handle stress—especially if it’s caused by fairly simple, resolvable issues—is quite alarming.
Stress is a part of everyday life, so you need to learn how to handle the emotions you feel when you are placed in a tight, triggering situation. Otherwise, the constant outbursts will take a toll on your body.
Important: Unfortunately, self-observation is not easy when it comes to mental health assessment. Most patients going through these symptoms will have a clouded sense of judgment and be unable to tell that they are unwell.
The best option here is to get help. Have a trusted friend, relative, or caregiver watch over you and observe your symptoms if you suspect even the smallest possibility of mental instability.
Best Ways to Improve Mental Health Among Seniors
The number of seniors and aged adults in the country suffering from mental health issues continues to rise. That’s why it’s essential for advocates, such as ourselves, to spread simple, effective tips patients can follow to improve their overall mental health and well-being. These include:
Exercise strengthens both the body and the mind. Studies show that exercising regularly yields several results including reduced stress levels, boosted energy levels, and improved overall mood. Engaging in physical activity also boosts one’s libido, which is good news for those who want to stay sexually active during their senior years.
You don’t have to follow a strict bodybuilding program to enjoy the physical and mental health benefits of working out. Simple activities such as yoga, walking, or cycling are already more than enough. Don’t push yourself to do anything you’re not comfortable with.
On that note, make sure to consult with your physician if you have any preexisting conditions that may hamper your ability to partake in physical activities. We recommend starting with low-impact movements that won’t harm the joints.
We cannot stress how important meditation is when it comes to mental health. Performing even just 15 to 20 minutes of deep meditation can already improve concentration, alleviate symptoms of anxiety, boost your ability to focus, ease depression, and reduce stress levels.
Here’s a simple guide to meditation for beginners:
- Sit on a comfortable chair or lie down on the bed, whichever works best for you.
- Then, close your eyes and proceed to empty your mind. You can use an eyepatch or blindfold, but the constricting feeling on your forehead might distract you.
- Next, breathe. Inhale and exhale naturally. Do not control your breathing in any way.
- Afterward, shift all your focus to your breathing. Focus on the way your forehead feels, then slowly move down to your stomach and your toes.
- Immerse yourself in your own body. Focus on nothing but your breathing. If your concentration breaks at any point in the meditation, remain calm, panicking will only make things worse. Instead, slowly draw your focus back to your breathing. Remember, do things slowly. There’s no need to rush.
- Continue for around 15 to 20 minutes.
Taking Up a New Hobby
Get a new hobby. A good approach here is to list down all of the hobbies and activities you never had time for back when you were still working. Go through them one by one. After all, you now have all the time and resources available to work on your frustrations and goals.
Of course, limit your hobbies to those you can still partake in. For example, skydiving might be a fun idea, but if you’re already over 65, there’s very little chance that you’ll be allowed to board a helicopter—much less jump out of it.
Solving Puzzles and Mind Games
Improve cognitive functions with puzzles and mind games. Studies show that playing games and puzzles regularly can improve one’s processing speed, analytical thinking, memory capacity, and decision-making skills, among other cognitive functions. Go for challenging games that force you to solve problems.
Adopting a Pet
If you’ve ever owned a pet, then you probably already know how calming animals can be. This feeling of joy is neither biased nor subjective. Studies prove that pet companionship can be directly linked to the overall improvement of one’s mental health and stability.
One way that pet ownership helps improve your mental health is it enforces a strict, daily schedule. You’ll shoulder the responsibility of feeding, bathing, and playing with your fur babies regularly.
How does this help? Well, some seniors feel lost and aimless if they do not have a structured day-to-day schedule to follow. Freedom is liberating at first, but after a while, it may also feel depressing.
Note: Don’t limit yourself to just dogs and cats. You’re free to choose any pet as a companion—whether they fur or scales on their bodies.
Overall, what’s important is to understand that mental health is as important as your physical health. Remember: the brain is a muscle. Just like any other muscle in your body, it deteriorates as you grow older, so take care of it.
Also, be aware of the signs and symptoms of mental instability. Early prevention is the best, most efficient way to address any type of psychological, mental, or cognitive health complication. There are specific illnesses that become untreatable past a certain point.
And don’t be afraid to seek help! There’s nothing wrong with consulting a psychiatrist. Don’t ever think it’s crazy to talk to a medical professional regarding your overall mental health and wellness. Delaying the necessary treatments will only aggravate your condition.
The mental health of seniors and elders
Contrary to popular belief, mental health illnesses are a very serious issue among seniors and older adults. Individuals over 85 have a higher suicide rate as compared to any other age group.
Early signs of mental health complications
Keep an eye out for these warning signs that might indicate mental health complications among aged individuals.
How do you stay mentally sane and healthy? Share your mental health wellness routine with us in the comments section below!