Ageism in Medicine: Mental Health is Critical for the Elderly

Mental Health is Critical in the Elderly

Mental health is equally as important as physical health.

The U.S. Surgeon General once defined mental health as “the successful performance of mental function, resulting in productive activities, fulfilling relationships with other people, and providing the ability to adapt to change and cope with adversity.” This holds true for everyone – including the elderly. Sadly, the lack these activities and stimuli lead to lower quality of life and poor mental health.

Deteriorating mental health can affect financial stability, put strain on families, open up the possibility for criminal victimization, and have a negative impact on physical well-being. Unfortunately, mental health is an area doctors avoid when treating their elderly patients. This implies that depression is normal in older patients.

Jarring Mental Health Trends in the Elderly

Surprisingly, the rate of suicide among the elderly is four times the national average. Additionally, seventy-five percent of those who committed suicide visited their primary care doctor within the previous month.

In a recent article in the U.S. News & World Report, Dr. Dilip Jeste, director of the Stein Institute for Research on Aging at University of California-San Diego School of Medicine said,”The way we treat and take care of people, especially older people, with mental health illnesses is certainly an embarrassment and a shame to society.”  Furthermore, she stated that “older people with mental illness have this double whammy: They are stigmatized because of mental illness and stigmatized because they’re older.”

How to Spot Depression

Caregivers and family members of the elderly should watch for signs of mental illness. These include:

  • Sadness or depression lasting longer than two weeks
  • Loss of interest in hobbies or social activities
  • Unexplained decrease in energy or changes in sleep patterns
  • Difficulties with concentration or decision-making
  • Change in appetite or changes in weight
  • Memory loss, especially short-term memory
  • Feelings of unimportance, misplaced guilt or thoughts of suicide
  • Unexplainable physical setbacks such as aches, constipation, etc.
  • Changes in appearance or problems taking care of the home
  • Struggles with money or working with numbers

Moving Forward

Given the facts, it stands to reason that further geriatrics training should be required of all doctors and caregivers. This would help combat the lack of mental health treatments available to the elderly. Moreover, tackling depression among the elderly could improve overall wellbeing. Most importantly, providing improved care from medical professionals could also enhance the personal independence and maintenance of mental well-being among the elderly population.

Caregivers and family members can protect the mental health of older adults by being watchful for the symptoms and advocating for quality care. Therapy, medications and lifestyle changes can all be effective in treating mental illness, allowing older adults to live longer, fuller lives.

We Can Help

DYA puts a premium on personalized services and attention and conducts regular training classes for all their home health aides regarding many conditions endemic to the elderly. For more information about David York Agency’s qualified, compassionate caregivers, contact us at 877.216.7676. A free phone consultation can help you decide what services might be best to provide you and your loved one with the assistance you need.

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