6 Myths About Seniors' Mental Health

By Ben Cornu

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, and in this article, we’re going to 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 the curmudgeonly seniors are ingrained and suggest that all seniors have a sour disposition and are depressed all the time. Additionally, seniors tend to experience a higher concentration of events associated with depression, such as loss, loneliness, 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, tied into the previous one, is that seniors won’t respond well to therapy. In reality, treating depression in the elderly has no different success rates than in younger people, and can vastly improve the quality of life. 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 they simply need to treat what they believe to be the underlying cause of their mental health issue, such as a 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 even in these cases.  

Getting therapy as a senior can sometimes feel difficult, as 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. Moreover, getting seniors into a recreational activity can improve their mental health and be a way to avoid loneliness, as well as get them to exercise, which can help with feelings of depression.  

3. Dementia Is a When Not an If 

Memory issues are oftentimes misunderstood. 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, while they present most commonly in older adults, 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, Alzheimer's is technically not a mental health issue, but a neurological disorder. This shouldn’t be news to your doctor or even those diagnosed, but it might help loved ones better understand the condition. The two kinds of issues can frequently be confused for another, but affect different parts of the body.  

4. Only Young People Experience Addiction 

Or more accurately, 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 they can affect anyone regardless of age. Anxiety disorders in older adults are actually more common than many realize, with up to 27% of seniors reporting symptoms of anxiety. Unfortunately, anxiety often goes undiagnosed in older adults. This is due to the stigma that anxiety (or other mental health issues for that matter) 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, and 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.  

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.  

Going Forward 

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.

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Tags: Mental Health