With the help of technology and science, we are now able to live much longer than any previous generation, but longer does not necessarily translate into healthier. According to a World Federation for Mental Health report, older adults are losing the role of the “sage advisor” who could spend their last years relaxing and enjoying the fruits of their labor and provide wisdom to the family. Older adults are now expected to continue making important contributions to society well into old age as family members, volunteers, and as active participants in the workforce. These expectations are not always complemented by additional support from society.
This week we are raising public awareness on the mental health in older adults, and addressing this growing concern.
Mental health disorders in older adults, specifically dementia and depression, are having a strong negative impact on the quality of life of older adults, preventing them from being the productive members of society and living independent lives that has come to be expected. It is also increasing the risk of death for many, as mental illnesses often compromise physical health. Addressing mental health is also increasing healthcare costs and lost productivity both in the workforce and at home.
Depression and anxiety are very common among older adults but for those adults who require home healthcare and/or hospital care the risk of developing depression increases. For older adults who have battled depression throughout their adult life, the struggle is almost unbearable. In the United States, for example, of every 100,000 people ages 65 and older, 14 died by suicide in a much higher number than the national average of 11 suicides per 100,000 people in the general population.
It is important to recognize the signs of depression in older adults and accept that it should not be a normal part of growing older. Depression during this age stage can be more difficult to treat as antidepressant treatment can be problematic. Older patients are more likely to not tolerate the dosages high enough to produce a response, the side effects can further limit and diminish their quality of life, and many medications have adverse drug-drug interactions.
New Mexico Aging and Long Term Services Department has resources available to support healthy aging. It is up to all of us to raise awareness of mental health issues affecting our older population, and ensure people know about the resources and treatment options available to older adults.