Seniors' mental health is often pushed aside as we focus on the physical signs of their aging. Moreover, conversations about mental health often focus primarily on younger people. Because of this, there are many myths that surround seniors' mental health. Let's debunk some of the most pervasive ones.
1. Depression Is a Normal Part of Aging
Contrary to popular belief, (like everything on this list!) depression is not a normal part of aging. Stereotypes about grumpy seniors are suggest that all seniors have a sour disposition and are depressed all the time. But there are many types of depression that can affect an older adult.
Additionally, seniors tend to experience more events associated with depression, such as loss, loneliness, loss of interest, or major health diagnoses. This can sometimes even lead to depression being overlooked by healthcare professionals as an expected reaction to major life events.
In fact, depression in seniors is a serious mental health concern. It’s more than a case of the blues or a reaction to a loss or a chronic illness. Fortunately, along with that, comes a bright side. Depression can be treated through different types of therapy or antidepressant medication.
On top of that, lifestyle changes such as getting more sleep, exercising, and healthy eating can all help improve symptoms of depression.
2. It’s Too Late for Therapy
Another pervasive myth is that seniors won’t respond well to therapy. In reality, treating depression in the elderly is just as successful as treating younger people. And treatments can vastly improve the quality of life for older adults.
There are a number of different reasons why people assume seniors won’t respond well to therapy. These worries frequently stem from the idea that medical doctors simply need to treat the underlying cause of a mental health issue. For example, chronic illness or feeling isolated.
Frequently, even seniors will resist the idea that they could need a therapist. However, mental health professionals can be beneficial in these cases. Look for a psychologist or mental health counselor that you trust with your loved one.
Getting therapy as a senior can sometimes feel difficult. Transportation to appointments, cost of treatment, or other factors can feel prohibitive. Having a loved one attend appointments with you, or getting depression treatment online, can help break down some of these barriers and make treatment more accessible.
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3. Dementia Is a When Not an If
Memory issues are oftentimes misunderstood and mistaken for mental health conditions. Much in the same way that depression and aging are conflated, people assume that dementia and Alzheimer's are just signs of getting older.
However, these issues are neurological conditions that are not caused by aging and will not affect all seniors. Missing the odd appointment or bill, or even losing things sometimes can be signs of mild forgetfulness, which is common as you get older, but differs from dementia or Alzheimer's.
Moreover, many seniors and their families don't understand the distinction between a mental health condition and a neurological disorder. Understanding the distinction it might help loved ones better understand what they're going through. The two kinds of issues can frequently be confused for another, but affect different parts of the body.
4. Only Young People Experience Addiction
Some might incorrectly think that seniors no longer struggle with or can’t develop addictions. Some families know the falsehoods of this all too intimately. Others discover it the hard way and wish they’d thought about it earlier.
Issues like alcoholism or addiction to pain medication do happen in seniors. Additionally, research suggests that substance abuse in seniors is on the rise in recent years. On top of that, it can have a stronger effect on seniors.
As your body gets older, it loses some of its ability to break down alcohol. Many seniors take medications that can have harmful interactions with alcohol or one another if taken improperly.
5. Seniors Grow Out of Their Anxiety
Another common myth is that seniors do not struggle with anxiety. There are many types of anxiety disorders and mental health conditions, and they can affect anyone regardless of age.
Anxiety disorders in older adults are actually more common than many realize. Up to 27% of seniors reporting symptoms of anxiety, like panic attacks, social phobia, or intense fear.
Unfortunately, anxiety often goes undiagnosed in older adults. This is due to the stigma that anxiety (or other types of mental health issues) are “grown out of” or that they will go away with time. Additionally, anxiety in seniors is often overlooked for depression and dementia as they are seen as the more severe issues.
Fortunately, treating anxiety in older adults is the same as treating any other age group. Seniors are just as responsive to treatment. The primary treatment methods for serious chronic anxiety disorders are therapy and medication. Additionally, lifestyle changes, such as avoiding stimulants, exercising, and learning mindfulness meditation, can all be beneficial in managing anxiety.
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6. Treatment Is Only for Serious Cases
Many people have a tendency to downplay their symptoms or think that treatment is too serious for what they experience. Seniors are no different. Since many have been struggling with overlooked mental health for a while, they are inclined to believe their feelings are normal or not significant enough to warrant treatment. However, like most chronic illnesses, detection and early intervention can be very beneficial.
On top of that, preventing mental health issues from becoming serious provides better quality of life and is easier to manage the curing of a significant case of depression or anxiety. As more major life events happen, seeing a therapist regularly can be beneficial for seniors to stay on top of their mental health, even if they don’t feel their symptoms “merit” it. Additionally, alternative kinds of therapy such as music therapy or art therapy can be beneficial for seniors.
Mental health issues in seniors can be serious, but they don’t have to be detrimental. Hopefully, after this article, you feel more confident in your knowledge of seniors' mental health, and the steps you can take to help yourself or a loved one.
If you have any questions about healthy aging, don't hesitate to reach out to a Caring team near you.