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Aging and Mental Health

Aging and Mental Health

Aging and Mental Health

Aging and Mental Health considers the biological, psychological and social aspects of aging as they relate to mental health. It emphasizes the various strategies, therapies and services which may be directed at improving the mental health of the elderly.

Definition of Aging and Mental Health

With improved diet, physical fitness, public health, and health care, more people are reaching retirement age (but not necessarily retiring) and they are in better physical and mental health than in the past. Trends show that the prevalence of chronic disability among older people is declining. While some disability is the result of more general losses of physiological functions with normal aging, extreme disability in older persons is not an inevitable part of aging. In fact, as it relates to mental health, even though those 60+ years of age make up over 12% of the population, they account for only 6% of the caseload of community mental health centers and only 2% of the caseload of mental health private practice.

As we age, we face many changes and many sources of stress. We are not as strong as we used to be, illness is more of a problem, children move away from home, people we love die, we may become lonely, and eventually we must give up our jobs and retire.

Normal aging is a gradual process that ushers in some physical decline, such as decreased vision, hearing, and decreased pulmonary and immune functions. With aging comes certain changes in mental functioning, but very few of these changes match commonly held negative stereotypes about aging. In normal aging, important aspects of mental health include stable intellectual functioning, capacity for change, and productive engagement with life.

Aging successfully should include good mental health, and the mental health of older adults is very much interconnected to their physical health. For instance, people who have physical problems like heart problems and diabetes are more likely to develop mental health problems. People with depression or anxiety are more likely to develop physical problems. In addition, older adults with mental health problems may experience them as physical problems such as lack of energy or trouble with memory and trouble concentrating.

Many people mistake the symptoms of depression, anxiety, fears, and other mental health problems for the aging process itself. Unfortunately, many people think that confused thinking, irritability, depressed mood, and loss of energy are just signs that someone is getting older rather than signs that someone needs help. The aging process itself does not normally cause sudden intellectual or emotional changes.

Coping with all the changes of aging can be difficult, but it can be done in  a healthy way. The keys to coping include your long-term lifestyle, your ability to expect and plan for change, the strength of your relationships with surviving family and friends, and your willingness to stay interested in and involved with life. Therefore, It is important for you to think carefully about what will happen to you as you age and how you are going to deal with the changes that will happen.

Dealing With Physical Changes

As you grow older, your body will naturally change. For example, physically, emotionally and energy wise, you do not operate at the levels you once did.  You may tire more easily than you used to. Your sex drive may change,  You may become ill more often and take longer to recover from injury and illness. You may not see or hear as well as you did when you were younger. Your reaction times are slower.  Here are a few things you can do to cope with these changes:

*Accept reality. Denying these changes will only make life less enjoyable. Get the things that will help you - eyeglasses or hearing aids for example.
*Keep a positive attitude. Remember that slowing down does not mean you have to come to a complete stop.
*Continue to set goals for yourself and work toward them.
*See your family doctor regularly.
*Be careful about your medications. As you get older, they may begin to interact differently with other drugs and to affect you differently than before. Make sure your doctor knows about all your medications, even those prescribed by another doctor.
*Get regular exercise.
*Change your eating habits. Adopt a balanced diet with fewer fatty foods.
*Keep active socially to prevent isolation.

Dealing With Bereavement

Many older adults experience loss with aging (loss of social status, self-esteem, and loss of physical capacities) including the death of friends and loved ones. Sadness and depression are normal accompaniments to these kinds of losses, but the grief, sadness, and depression all need to be within normal limits.

Loss of a spouse is common in late life. About 800,000 older Americans are widowed each year. Bereavement is a natural response to death of a loved one. Its features, almost universally recognized, include crying and sorrow, anxiety and agitation, sleep problems, and eating problems.  This constellation of symptoms does not by itself constitute a mental disorder. Only when symptoms persist for 2 months and longer after the loss does the DSM-IV a permit a diagnosis of either adjustment disorder or major depressive disorder.

You may want to consider some of the following ways of coping with your grief and sadness.

*Do not deny your feelings. If you do not allow yourself to go through the grieving process, you are only storing up problems for a delayed reaction later on.
*Accept the range of emotions you will feel. Tears, anger and guilt are all normal reactions.
*Remember and talk about the deceased person. He/she was an important part of your life. Although your grief will pass, your memories will always stay with you.
*Look to your family and friends for support.
*Be supportive of those you know who have suffered a loss. They need the warmth and caring that friendship can bring, just as you will when it happens to you.
*Continue to set goals for yourself and work toward them.

Dealing With Loneliness

Everyone needs some time alone, but being alone against your will is very painful. You risk losing your sense of purpose and self-worth, and becoming anxious and depressed. As family members and friends die and children become more involved in their own lives, it is important for you to find ways to cope with loneliness. You may want to consider some of the following suggestions:

*Stay active, and look for new social contacts. .
*Very young children can brighten up your life. Try to make friends with people of different ages.
*Spend time with grandchildren and great-nieces and nephews.
*Continue to set goals for yourself and work toward them.
*Learn to recognize and deal with the signs of depression. Loss of appetite and weight, inability to sleep, loss of energy and motivation, and thoughts of suicide are all signs of depression.

Retirement may increase your sense of loneliness and can be a major source of stress.  This stress may be even greater if you have been forced to retire because of retirement policies. You may lose your sense of identity and feel less worthwhile. You will probably miss the daily contact with friends from work.  Retirement frequently is associated with negative myths and most people actually fare well in retirement.  Those at risk for faring poorly are individuals who typically do not want to retire, who are compelled to retire because of poor health, or who experience a significant decline in their standard of living.

Could You Benefit From a Mental Health Assessment?

The following list of questions may help you determine whether you or someone you care about could use some professional help. All of the questions represent some important part of thinking or behavior that can be addressed by psychologists and other mental health professionals.

A YES answer to one or more questions may suggest that you could benefit from a mental health assessment or intervention.

Do I feel more disoriented, confused or easily agitated than usual?
Do I feel strong and repeated concerns about death or dying?
Have I not been taking my medication for mental health problems as it is prescribed?
Do I find myself arguing a lot with my family and my neighbors?
Do I find myself in a bad mood more than usual?
Do I avoid being with people and feel anxious when I talk with people?
Do I feel pains and aches that don't have any medical basis?
Do I find myself wandering around not sure of what I am doing or where I am going?
Have I not been eating or caring for my personal hygiene?
Am I suspicious of others, including my friends and family?
Do I find no pleasure in doing things that I used to enjoy a great deal?
Do I feel hopeless or worthless?
Do I feel more nervous and worried than usual without any reason?
Do I feel that it doesn't matter if I live or die?

If you or someone you know is concerned about growing older, there are psychologists and other mental health professionals who specialize in the problems of aging.

Additional Information

For more information about aging and mental health, please click on the linked websites listed below.

 American Society on Aging
 Canadian Mental Health Association
 National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) on aging
 University of Missouri: Mental health and aging
 Mental Health Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania
 Report of the  Surgeon General: Older Adults and Mental Health

Would You Like Personal Assistance?

If you really want help dealing with your feelings and emotions, changing your behavior, and improving your life and the approach and office hours of typical therapists and counselors do not fit your life style or personal needs, I may have a solution.

By using very flexible office appointments, telephone consultations, email, teleconferences, and the willingness to travel and meet with you personally in your home, office, or other location,  I can be available to help you anytime and anywhere.

Feel free to contact me now for your free initial consultation. Once you become an existing client, you will be given a  pager  number where you can reach me whenever you need.

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