If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis in the United States, call 988 to contact the Suicide and Crisis Helpline. It is FREE and available 24/7 in English and Spanish. You can also visit their website and chat with someone online For people outside the United States experiencing a mental or behavioral health crisis, please go here to find suicide crisis lines (listed by country).
The aging process can be complicated and, at times, frustrating. But while aging can bring about many changes, conditions like depression and anxiety are NOT normal parts of healthy aging, which means targeted treatment is necessary to improve the struggling individual's well-being.
Keep reading to learn more about the potential causes and triggers of geriatric mental disorders... and how to connect yourself or your loved one with senior mental health services to improve everyone's quality of life.
Seek Help Today
It's important to remember that there is absolutely no shame in getting help for mental illnesses; it is the same as getting help for physical illnesses like diabetes or heart disease. We encourage people living with mental illnesses (or concerned about a struggling loved one) to talk to your health insurance provider or primary care physician to see if they can refer you to a mental health care provider in your area.
You can also explore the following resources below to learn more about ways to find affordable resources in your area.
Mental Health Resources for Older Adults
Good mental health is possible, especially when you know where to go for help. The following resources can help older people and their loved ones learn more about the mental and emotional needs of aging adults and where to find affordable mental health professionals in their area.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- Eldercare Locator
- National Institute on Aging (NIA)
- National Institute on Mental Health (NIMH)
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
- World Health Organization (WHO)
Mental Health Resources for Family Members and Caregivers
Older people aren't the only ones in a family who can have mental health concerns at one time; their loved ones can too, especially if they have taken on the role of an unpaid family caregiver. The following resources can help family members/caregivers of an aging adult learn more about how to better care for their loved ones and their own mental well-being as well.
- "10 Warning Signs Your Older Family Member May Need Help"
- American Heart Association
- MedlinePlus Proveedor de atención al paciente (Español)
- MedlinePlus Resources for Caregivers (English)
- Mental Health and Substance Use Insurance Help from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
- National Family Caregiver Support Program from the Administration for Community Living (ACL)
- Resources for Caregivers from the National Cancer Institute
Mental Health Issues Facing Seniors
The mental health of older adults is just as complex and nuanced as that of any other age group. Knowing more about the specific types of mental health issues seniors experience—and what causes them—can help older adults and their loved ones find more effective treatment in a timely manner.
Knowing the causes and triggers of these concerns can guide treatment. Common contributing factors to mental health problems in aging adults include the following:
- Alzheimer's disease or other forms of cognitive impairment - Living with conditions like dementia can be frustrating, confusing, and scary. In addition to these mental changes, Alzheimer's disease and the like can also physically alter the brain , leading to changes in ability and state of mind.
- Declining physical health - Many aging adults find that declining physical health and changes in ability negatively impacts their state of mind.
- Loss of independence - Lifestyle changes are often necessary with age to keep people safe. Many aging people find that losing their independence, such as no longer being able to drive, can negatively impact their emotional and mental states.
- Major life changes, such as the passing of a spouse - Change is never easy, and major life disruptions can lead to mental and behavioral health issues at any age.
- Medication side effects - All medications come with the risk of side effects. Older adults are not only more likely to take more medications than other age groups, but they are also more likely to face certain negative reactions , like delirium, than others.
- Sleep problems - Experts associate issues with sleep with a variety of health problems , including mental disorders. Unfortunately, sleeping problems are incredibly common for older people .
- Social isolation - Older adults are at heightened risk of social isolation, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Social isolation increases the risk of developing or worsening certain mental and physical health conditions , like depression, anxiety, and stroke.
Common Geriatric Mental Illnesses
- Anxiety disorders - Anxiety is incredibly common among the elderly, although it is often times underdiagnosed in this demographic . It often exists alongside other conditions, like depression.
- Depression and other mood disorders - Depression is one of the most common geriatric mental disorders in the world, and some research shows that older men are more likely than any other age group are more likely to complete suicide.
- Substance use disorders (SUDs) - Studies show that SUDs among the elderly are on the rise. Commonly abused substances among this group include alcohol and prescription drugs like opioids.
- Sundown syndrome, or late-day confusion - While not an officially recognized medical disease, sundown syndrome is a condition common among people living with dementia. It occurs later in the day and is marked by symptoms like confusion, agitation, wandering, and aggression.
Living with a mental or behavioral health disorder can be difficult. With proper treatment, however, it is possible to see an improvement in symptoms and to enjoy life again.