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Understanding Mental Health Issues in Geriatric Population

As you transition from one phase of your life to another, certain changes take place in your body and mind. Aging is a natural process that every living being goes through in its lifetime. It’s nature’s way of preparing one for transitioning into a new phase of life which brings a new set of challenges with it. 

Quite often aging is seen as an undesirable element in life, giving it a bad reputation. However, when aging happens in accordance with the principles of successful aging, one maintains mental productivity, physical wellbeing, and leads a meaningful life, aging can be a smooth transitioning without any major problems to one's mental or physical health. 

In India, the physical, emotional, and mental problems of elderly people are often dismissed as either a part of the ’normal aging process’ or as something not so serious. However, elderly people are prone to life stressors such as significant loss in mental capacities, the decline in functional ability, reduced mobility and social isolation. Additionally, the decline in economic independence further contributes to the worsening of geriatric mental health problems. Furthermore, the recent changes in the family systems in India have made the elderly even more prone to psychological problems. 

  • A recent study found the prevalence of mental illnesses to be much higher among the elderly population as compared to non-geriatric groups. 
  • Studies from hospital clinics, old age homes, and communities found depression to be the most common psychiatric disorder with a prevalence ranging from 22.2% to 55.2% among elderly patients. 
  • Dementia is a rising major concern among elderly people. Studies in India have found the prevalence of dementia to vary from 0.84% to 6.7%.
  • Anxiety Disorders among elderly people range from 5.34% to 21.35% in India.
  • Anxiety at old age can crop due to various reasons including lack of economic sustenance, death of a loved one, fear of abandonment and death, etc. 

As a result, aged people are highly vulnerable to mental health issues as they quite often go underdiagnosed. This can lead to an increase in the severity of the progression of psychological disorders. Additionally, the lack of proper provisions for Geriatric Psychology by the government to support the elderly further contribute to this risk, thus creating problems with aging successfully. 

The Common types of mental illness in elderly people are:

  • Dementia- Dementia is a chronic or progressive syndrome that causes deterioration in memory, thinking, and behaviour which reduces the ability to perform daily activities. It is one of the most common mental illnesses prevalent in older people but is not a normal part of aging. Common symptoms include forgetfulness, impaired cognitive abilities that interfere with daily life functioning. Dementia is a progressive disorder, meaning symptoms gradually get worse as time goes by and hence should not be ignored. 
  • Alzheimer’s Disease- Alzheimer’s disease damages the brain, resulting in impaired thinking, memory, and behaviour. In Alzheimer’s, the outer layer of the brain’s cortex starts to shrink which causes interference with memory, language, and judgement. Common symptoms include persistent memory difficulties, taking longer to carry out routine tasks, deterioration of social skills, etc. Alzheimer’s causes serious cognitive impairment with time. 
  • Depression- Death of loved ones is considered the most common cause of depression in older adults. Other factors include changes in family structure, cognitive and physical impairment, economic insecurity, loss of occupation due to retirement, loneliness, and relocation. Depression is a common psychiatric disorder in the elderly, but often goes misdiagnosed and under-treated due to lack of support. 
  • Anxiety Disorder- Anxiety Disorders are also quite prevalent among elderly individuals amounting to 10.7% further consisting of Generalized Anxiety Disorders followed by phobias and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders. Risk factors for anxiety disorders include fear of falling, disability in old age, suppressed childhood trauma, lower income, etc. OCD can creep up deceptively due to peculiarity with compulsions with the onset of old age. 

Does mental health get worse as you get older?

Signs of aging should not be neglected and a diagnosis should be conducted if aging symptoms worsen with time. With timely action, the severity of any disorder can be reduced or at least be stabilized. 

  • Mental illnesses such as Dementia, Alzheimer’s, and Depression can be treated in an organized manner if diagnosed early on. 
  • If ignored, it can worsen over time, leading to a dependency of the elderly on others for daily living and meeting basic needs. 

How to prevent age-related mental health problems?

Aging doesn’t have to be a situation of despair and difficulty, with right and timely action, it can be a graceful transition for both the elderly and other family members. By keeping an eye out for symptoms along with regular assessments any age-related mental disorder can be prevented and even be cured. The HappiMynd Self-Assessment Tool gives you accurate reports of your mental health instantly along with recurring reminders and checkup notifications. 

Early-on action is the key to accepting forthcoming challenges that appear with the onset of the aging process. Remember, Change is a natural process that helps you to progress in life with time.