Your senior years should be a time to kick back and relax, to pursue things you never had time for, and to appreciate all the fruits of a life well lived. Retirement is often a time when people pick up new hobbies and make new friends. That said, older adults can also face new or recurring mental health issues that surface to dampen enjoyment of life’s activities.
The CDC estimates that 20% of people 55 or older experience some type of mental health concern, such as anxiety, severe cognitive impairment, bipolar disorder, or depression. Depression, the CDC says, is most prevalent. It’s important to watch for signs of depression, which may go unrecognized or misdiagnosed in seniors, due to other coexisting health issues.
Here we’ll look at some of the mental health risk factors unique to seniors and how seniors can take care of their emotional wellbeing, just as they practice healthy habits for physical wellness.
4 Common Risks to Senior Mental Health
People may struggle with anxiety or depression at various periods in their lives — some researchers suggest depression symptoms rose three-fold during the COVID-19 pandemic — and some people have a genetic predisposition to these conditions. Certain mental health conditions that arise in advanced age can bring these predispositions to the surface. Here are four risks to be aware of.
1. Other Health Conditions
The World Health Organization reports that one to five percent of the elderly population suffers from depression, but that number jumps as high as 47 percent of those being treated for cancer, heart attack, or stroke. Dealing with any illness, injury, or decline in function understandably may lead to frustration, fear, or sadness. It may also prevent a person from taking part in activities they once enjoyed.
2. Experiences in Earlier Life
You may have been taught, throughout life, that anxiety, stress, and fear should be kept private. Maybe you got the message that sharing your feelings too readily would place a burden on others or make you appear weak. However, talking about mental health issues is critical to managing symptoms and finding help when it’s needed.
3. Loss of Loved Ones
Part of aging means losing friends and family as they age. Losing a spouse, in particular, presents a major shift to a person’s lifestyle and wellbeing. Grieving is normal, but it can be hard to see the line between grief and more long-lasting mental illnesses. If the latter is the case, it’s critical to seek qualified medical support through these kinds of life changes.
4. Feelings of Loneliness
Around 40% of seniors in the U.S. live alone, more than anywhere else in the world. While some older adults enjoy living in their own house as long as they can, they often miss out on frequent human connection. Social isolation is a major risk factor for depression and other mental illnesses.
8 Ways to Maintain or Improve Mental Health Later in Life
Seniors need not accept certain mental health issues as a “normal” part of aging. They and the people who care about them can work together to maintain good mental health. Here are eight ways for seniors to help boost their mental health, along with links to accompanying resources and information.
- Engage in Physical Activity — Regular exercise (especially socially based activities like dancing) benefits mental as well as physical health.
- Live in a Close-Knit Community — Living among like-minded people who care about each other is associated with greater happiness and longevity.
- Communicate Regularly with Friends and Family — It can be a challenge to keep in touch, especially with long distances, busy schedules, and a pandemic getting in the way. Even a quick call or email can increase feelings of connectedness.
- Continue Learning — Lifelong learning has been shown to improve mental and cognitive health, helping to prevent everything from depression to dementia. Your senior years can be a great time to learn anything that interests you.
- Laugh — A good laugh can relieve stress, depression, and even physical pain. Read a funny book, watch a comedy on TV, or spend time with that friend who always makes you chuckle.
- Maintain Any Spiritual Practices — Religion and spirituality help many people feel connected with something greater than themselves and with other like-minded people, both factors that benefit mental health.
- Spend Time in Nature — There is nothing like a nature break to sooth the mind. Spending time in nature, or even with a nice view of the outdoors from a window, has been shown time and again to benefit people, including seniors, in myriad ways.
- Eat a Balanced Diet — There’s actually something called nutritional psychiatry. Eating a healthful, balanced diet becomes even more important with age, and how you eat affects your whole body, including the brain and mental health.
How Our Senior Living Community Supports Mental Health
Many of the benefits of living in senior communities align with the elements of good mental health. At Aviva Senior Living, you can form close bonds with your neighbors, exercise, take advantage of learning activities, spend time outdoors in Sarasota, enjoy on-campus dining, and have healthcare services nearby when you need them. Many people find that independent or assisted living reduces loneliness and stress that they experienced living in their own home.