How can aging affect mental health?

What do you picture when you imagine your retirement? Whether it’s spending more time with loved ones or traveling the world, we all want to experience our golden years with as much comfort and independence as possible. Unfortunately for a growing number of seniors, however, mental illness has become a serious threat to their overall well-being. According to the World Health Organization, psychological conditions like dementia and depression affect 15% of people aged 60 and over, and that percentage is expected to rise as the global population continues to age. To complicate matters the severity of these mental disorders can vary, and available treatments and management options are still quite limited. So what’s actually happening to your brain as you get older, and what can you do to safeguard your mental health?

The aging brain

Just like the rest of your body, your brain transforms in fascinating ways over the course of your lifetime. However, not all these changes are normal. Many of us expect to grow more forgetful, clumsy, and maybe even a little grumpy, but experts disagree that cognitive decline is inevitable. Before we look at ways to keep your mind sharp, it’s important to first recognize the causes of cognitive decline and the potential illnesses that can result.

Possible causes of mental illness among the elderly

  • Chronic disease, physical impairment, or pain — No longer feeling as vital or capable can have negative effects on your psyche, especially if you were formerly quite active.
  • Grief, loneliness, or significant life changes — The loss of a loved one or overwhelming feelings associated with moving into assisted living can sometimes trigger mental disorders.
  • Pharmaceutical interactions — Certain medications don’t mix well and can directly alter your mindset or behavior.

Common illnesses and mental disorders

  • Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease — Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia, both of which are characterized by the inability to recall basic information and formulate coherent thoughts. These conditions are often accompanied by negative, strange, or atypical behavior.
  • Depression and anxiety — These are two of the most common mental illnesses affecting adults worldwide. They can be tricky to distinguish, so we created this infographic to help you understand each condition.
  • Suicide — Without receiving adequate support, seniors are at greater risk for developing suicidal tendencies.
  • Chronic disease — Interestingly, chronic disease can both be a cause and a result of mental illness. We mentioned in a previous post that physical and mental health are intricately connected. In other words, neglecting one can have detrimental effects on the other and vice versa.

Preventative measures

These issues are all disconcerting, but luckily there are a few things you can do to help avoid cognitive decline.

  • Stay active, both physically and intellectually. Go for walks, stretch regularly, read books, and do puzzles to exercise your body and mind.
  • Eat healthy and see your doctor regularly. Also be sure to take any medications exactly as prescribed, and report any side effects as soon as you notice them.
  • Develop routines to boost your memory. For instance, keeping your medication in the same place and taking it at the same time each day will reduce the likelihood that you’ll miss a dose.
  • Spend time with people who are younger than you. Whether they’re your relatives, fellow volunteers, other parishioners, etc, maintaining close ties with people from different generations can expose you to new ideas and experiences, and it’ll probably make you feel younger, too.
  • Minimize stress through activities you find relaxing, such as yoga, painting, or singing. Stress is connected to depression and anxiety, and, if prolonged, is known to be damaging to memory and cognition.

Learn more about protecting your mental health

This article represents just a small fraction of the wealth of mental health resources contained in our online library. To find out more about strategies for promoting good mental health, supporting a loved one with mental illness, or any other related topic simply log into your LifeSpeak account or ask your HR team to contact us to become a client.


Originally published at LifeSpeak.

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