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How Does Aging Affect Geriatric Mental Health?

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The brain is a muscle, and with age, it deteriorates like other parts of our body. However, seniors or their caregivers often brush aside geriatric mental health as prolonged sadness or age-related forgetfulness. According to the Pan American Health Organization, at least one in four older adults suffer from some form of mental disorder, such as depression, dementia, or anxiety. Moreover, as the population ages, this number is expected to double by 2030. Mental health issues like depression and bipolar disorder also often lead to cases of suicide among the elderly. 

However, there is a silver lining behind these dark clouds. According to a survey by CDC, almost 80% of depressive disorders in the elderly are treatable. Moreover, with timely intervention focusing on social and physical wellbeing, you can minimize the adverse effects of aging on your mental health. Let us understand how aging affects geriatric behavioural health and how to take the proper steps to identify and deal with them.

Things to know about geriatric mental health

Table Of Content

10 things to know about geriatric mental health 

  1. One in four older adults above the age of 60 suffers from a mental health concern. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 20% of adults over 60 suffer from a cognitive or behavioral issue. As an aging global population that will reach 2 billion by 2050, a large population would need help with geriatric mental health issues, making it a significant problem for seniors and their caregivers.
  2. Although aging affects our body and naturally slows down cognition, mental health problems are not typical. As seniors, you may have suffered bereavement and losses, but prolonged sadness is abnormal. Almost 6.6% of all disability among the elderly is attributed to mental disorders. Hence, timely diagnosis is vital to improve the quality of life in seniors. 
  3. Geriatric mental health is as important as physical health, and both are interrelated. Studies show that physical activities like yoga, hiking, swimming or even a walk can improve cognitive health, perk up your mood and reduce depressive symptoms.                                                                                                                                                                                             indoor and outdoor activities                                                                                                                      
  4. Your golden years are a chance to enjoy life anew with hobbies, games and activities that exercise your mind and body. They give you a purpose and improve the quality of your life. Also, involving yourself in various indoor and outdoor activities can boost social interactions and reduce loneliness. 
  5. Geriatric behavioral health problems are a risk for older adults. Moreover, most older adults do not speak up and suffer from depressive disorders in silence. The social stigma associated with mental illness, ageism and isolation are the most common reasons seniors often do not seek help for geriatric mental health. 
  6. It may sound dreary, but suicide among the elderly is prevalent. According to PAHO, people aged 85 and older have the highest suicide rate of any group. Of these, more men are likely to end their lives than women. Depression, along with physical debility, is the leading cause of suicide among older adults. 
  7. With timely support and intervention, one can help older adults with the same success rate as the younger population. It is worth noting that 80% of diagnosed depressive conditions in the elderly are treatable.
  8. One of the reasons for depression, rising suicides, cognitive and behavioral issues is the lack of support from the health system. Medicare doesn’t cover mental health issues adequately, causing financial strain for seniors. Moreover, the treatment gap in mental health is a growing concern, with two-thirds of seniors not getting the treatment they need. 
  9. The challenge in geriatric mental health is misdiagnosis or avoidance. Studies show that 50% of depression cases in seniors go undiagnosed by primary care physicians. 
  10. Seniors have unique mental health care needs, often combined with chronic physical conditions such as heart problems, mobility issues, cancer, Parkinson’s, and diabetes. These require long term care from caregivers, assisted living communities, daily living aids and health services. 

When should you consult a healthcare professional?

When should you consult a healthcare professional

Here are some signs and symptoms that call for a consultation with your healthcare professional. Remember that early diagnosis can lead to timely treatment and a better quality of life for your senior years.

  1. Prolonged sadness that extends more than a couple of weeks
  2. Continuing anxiety related to finances, family, health, and social life.
  3. Frequent forgetfulness and being confused even in familiar places.
  4. Sudden weight gain or weight loss
  5. Sleeplessness, poor concentration or excess lethargy
  6. Increased alcohol consumption (more than one drink) or taking more medications than prescribed.

Final thoughts

Aging is a natural process that affects the body and mind. However, being vocal about mental health symptoms and seeking help at the right time can improve geriatric mental health for a fulfilled life.


What is geriatric behavioral health?

Geriatric behavioral health involves changes in mental conditions caused due to aging in seniors. It evaluates the psychiatric effect of chronic physical or mental illness in the elderly.

What is geriatric mental health outreach?

Geriatric mental health outreach is an effort by the community to help seniors with severe mental disorders. Various hospitals offer geriatric mental outreach programs to assisted living communities, senior living societies and retirement homes in rural, semi-urban and urban areas. They diagnose and treat mental health problems among the elderly. 

What causes mental health issues in the elderly?

One of the leading causes of mental health issues in the elderly is isolation and loneliness that may trigger depression. Lack of social and physical activities can also affect cognitive functioning. Chronic illnesses, worries about finances and feelings of dependence are other complex causes.

Vince Baiera

Vince Baiera is the founder of step2health, a mobility aids and wellness company for older adults. He is a former ICU Nurse of the Cleveland Clinic and Duke University Hospital in the Cardiac ICU. With years of working on the frontlines, Vince noticed the struggles of older adults and people with mobility issues that became an impediment for both patients and their caretakers. He then designed and created the patented product, Step2Bed (and its variants) that helps seniors and those with mobility issues safely get in and out of bed. His philosophy concerning aging is to plan ahead and start with simple home and life modifications to avoid being overwhelmed at retirement.

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