According to the Mayo Clinic there are a number of physical and mental changes we go through as we get older. These include both noticeable and hidden physical changes as well as decreasing brain functions. (https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/healthy-aging/in-depth/aging/art-20046070).
Problems with memory and cognitive skills are recognized parts of aging and there are ways to combat this. What is less understood is that aging can also take a toll on our mental health beyond slowing brain function and this can lead to psychological issues.
Depression In Later Life
According to WebMD late-life depression may annually affect 6 million Americans over the age of 65. When it comes to late onset depression it tends to vary from that experienced by younger sufferers. This is because it is often the result of a person’s natural physical decline as they age. (https://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/depression-elderly).
Chronic illness and declining physical capabilities can actually cause those over 65 to become depressed. Feelings of not being as strong as they once were or impending concerns of mortality can deeply affect a person’s mental health. This type of depression can be far more long lasting than other forms likely due to the inability to vastly change the root concerns.
Anxiety In Later Life
Elder care expert Deborah Stone suggests that many people assume that anxiety decreases as we age, but that may be incorrect. Stone says that many older individuals who suffer anxiety may have experienced it for many years but have never been diagnosed. (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/caring-the-caregivers/202002/anxiety-and-panic-in-older-people).
The added problems and risks faced by older individuals can induce much higher levels of anxiety. Increasing infirmity physically brings the very real anxiety of a heightened risk of falling. This increased risk and the higher likelihood of injury as we age can make for a heightened level of anxiety.
Stress As We Age
Harvard Health suggests that as we age it can be increasingly more difficult for us to cope with stress. One of the major reasons for this is our physical decline which makes it harder to deal with the physical symptoms of stress. Our cardiovascular system is weakened and more at risk from the damage of high stress situations. (https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/does-stress-management-become-more-difficult-as-you-age).
Poor mental health is not always a psychological issue that can be solved with therapy especially in later life. Conditions such as Alzheimer’s and dementia become a greater risk to those of advancing years. According to the Mayo Clinic dementia can cause memory loss, communication issues, loss of reasoning capabilities, confusion, and disorientation. ( https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dementia/symptoms-causes/syc-20352013).
Caused by gradually developing brain deterioration these cognitive impairment conditions are manageable but generally incurable. As a result, sufferers experience a myriad of mental health issues including confusion, depression, anxiety and vastly altered moods.
Substance abuse is a global problem which can affect people of all ages but generally focus is placed on younger individuals. The American Addiction Centers suggests that addiction to substances such as alcohol can even begin in later life. (https://alcoholrehab.com/drug-addiction/effects/age-and-substance-abuse/).
Issues such as boredom, anxiety, loneliness, and depression can lead older individuals toward substance abuse as a way to cope with life. They also may be experiencing increasing pain as they get older which could lead to prescription drug addictions.
Old age is a time of massive change in people’s lives. They no longer feel young and they have less life ahead of them than they had in the 20s or 30s. It can become difficult to be optimistic and happy which can result in declining mental health.
The big problem is that it often goes unnoticed because people assume that they are just slowing down and maybe becoming cranky. In reality their mental health may be suffering and they may need some help to get through a difficult time in their lives.