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MENTAL HEALTH AND WELLBEING

Tips for supporting mental health in older adults

Explore tips on how you can support your elderly loved ones to improve mental health and promote a healthy lifestyle.

May 16, 2024

Elderly man feeling stressed

Talking about mental health and emotional wellbeing is much more common these days, and it’s crucial to remember that mental health is a serious concern across all age groups, particularly older adults.

In fact, the demographic group of people aged 60 and above can frequently face major challenges such as loneliness, isolation, chronic health conditions and the loss of loved ones.

In this article, we explore some of the most common mental health issues older adults might be facing and provide you with advice and practical tips on how to support seniors’ mental wellbeing and enhance their overall life quality.

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Common mental health issues in older adults

As individuals age, they may encounter a range of significant life events and challenges that can impact their lives – both temporarily as well as long-term. From depression to anxiety disorders and social isolation, all these issues can have a profound effect on older adults’ day-to-day life but may also lead to more serious physical health concerns.

Some of the most common mental health challenges in older adults include:


Depression

Depression is one of the most common mental health concerns among older adults that can be triggered by various factors. The symptoms of depression often include persistent sadness, lack of interest in hobbies and activities, changes in appetite and sleep patterns and difficulty concentrating. Unfortunately, depression in older adults is frequently overlooked, as its symptoms can sometimes be mistaken for the ageing process or a direct result of physical health problems.


Anxiety disorders

Anxiety is another common mental health condition in older adults, manifesting as excessive worry, fear and nervousness, which gets in the way of their normal enjoyment and ways of life. In severe cases, anxiety can lead to clinical depression and panic disorder, posing a serious threat to the individual’s wellbeing.


Cognitive impairment and dementia

Cognitive impairments, including various forms of dementia, can significantly impact mental health of older adults, as they often involve a decline in memory, reasoning and other cognitive functions. While sometimes causing a rapid decline in the affected person’s life quality, dementia can also place a serious mental and physical burden on caregivers and family members.

Elderly woman with depression and anxiety being consoled

Risk factors and causes

Understanding the risk factors and common causes of mental health issues is important to provide your elderly loved ones with sufficient care and support and, if necessary, seek help from a dedicated professional.

These are some primary risk factors and causes frequently impacting seniors’ mental health:

  • Chronic illnesses and pain
  • Mobility issues
  • Sensory impairment, such as loss of vision or hearing
  • Loneliness and isolation
  • Reduced social interactions
  • Significant life changes, such as retirement or relocation
  • Grief and bereavement
  • Financial concerns
  • Seasonal effects


How to improve mental health in elderly people

Improving mental health in the elderly can be a complex task, addressing physical, emotional and social aspects of a person’s life. Seeing improvements usually requires everyone involved to agree that some things might need to change for things to get better, which can be challenging to talk about with some older adults.

Additionally, if your elderly loved one suffers from any symptoms signalling mental health issues, it’s important to tailor the approach based on the specific causes and unique personal circumstances of the individual.

Below, we’ve compiled some support and wellbeing tips on how to improve mental health in elderly people:


Encourage social connections

With many mental health issues rooted in loneliness and social isolation, it’s very important to encourage older adults to engage in social activities and prevent them from losing touch with people they can connect with.

Whether it means attending family gatherings or joining a community with shared interests, social interactions play a key role in combating isolation while also helping to lower the risk of cognitive function decline.

Engaging in volunteering activities is another great way for older adults to get involved in different social circles, while also providing them with a sense of purpose and fulfilment.


Promote physical activity

It’s well-known that physical activity directly links to mental health wellbeing. If the physical condition of an elderly person allows, it’s important to encourage them to include regular physical activity into their daily routine.

While positively contributing to physical fitness and reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases and many other health conditions, physical activity is a brilliant way to improve mood and reduce stress and anxiety.

Elderly woman engaging in physical activity


Ensure appropriate nutrition

As simple as it sounds, nutrition can have a profound effect on a person’s mental wellbeing regardless of their age. Especially in older adults, malnutrition can lead to serious mental and physical health issues, weakening the immune system and increasing the risk of various chronic diseases.

While making sure elderly people’s diet is based on lean proteins, whole grains, fruit and vegetables, it’s also essential to encourage regular intake of fluids to prevent dehydration.


Maintain a healthy routine

Establishing a well-organised daily routine is crucial to maintaining mental wellbeing and healthy balance, especially when it comes to older adults.

From consistent meal times to good sleeping habits and regular social and physical activities, a healthy routine can help maintain a sense of control and fulfilment while reducing the risk of stress and anxiety.


Provide emotional support

Generally, elderly people are less open to talking about their mental health, as they might worry about losing their independence, or can be held back by various stigmas. However, encouraging honest communication and providing emotional support can be highly beneficial when improving an elderly person’s mental wellbeing.

Suffering from a mental health condition can pose significant challenges to people’s daily routine, and being able to openly speak about their emotions can release the pressure and help them feel understood and supported.

Depending on the affected person’s condition and preferences, you can either choose to discuss the issue in a family circle or seek help from a support group or a mental health professional.


Use of technology to support mental health in elderly

Elderly couple discussing about a personal alarm

Digital technology is a powerful tool that helps us stay connected to the outside world and reach essential services in a split second. More than this, technology can be also incredibly useful in improving mental health of the elderly, as it offers a range of functions to keep in touch with loved ones, combat social isolation and monitor health and safety at home if needed.

These are some suggestions on how to utilise technology to support mental health in older adults:

  • Participating in online social communities to combat isolation and encourage new connections
  • Using social media to keep in touch with distant family members or friends
  • Engaging in online courses and other educational activities to stimulate the mind and improve cognitive functions
  • Registering for online counselling or therapy to address mental health concerns and prevent the development of serious illnesses
  • Installing home safety devices, such as video doorbell or key safe to give you and your elderly loved ones peace of mind when living independently
  • Setting smartphone reminders to help with memory issues and assist with the daily routine
  • Using personal alarms or smart home monitoring devices to enhance elderly people’s safety when living independently and address emergency situations if needed.

To learn more about utilising technology in elderly people’s lives, you can read our blog on useful technology for elderly people living alone in the UK.


Available support networks

Mental health in older adults is a serious, complex matter, and if you have any concerns regarding your elderly loved one’s mental wellbeing, it’s always a good idea to seek guidance from a professional.

There are a few options you can choose from when addressing mental health issues in the elderly, including:

  • Professional counselling and therapy are an effective way to address mental health issues with a qualified professional, who can provide structured guidance and accelerate the recovery process.
  • Alternatively, there are also a number of charity organisations, such as Samaritans, Age UK, MindEd or Independent Age, all providing various resources to support elderly people struggling with mental health while offering guidance and practical advice to their families.
  • Some charities in the UK also offer a range of support groups for elderly people, helping them cope with challenging life situations, such as bereavement or chronic illnesses. 

Mental health is a crucial, yet often overlooked aspect of elderly people’s wellbeing. However, as the population ages, it’s more important than ever to understand the unique challenges older adults might be facing and address any issues as soon as possible.

From promoting a healthy lifestyle to seeking help from counsellors and support networks, there’s a whole range of possibilities you can choose from to help support and improve mental health in elderly people.

Staying Connected guide

Our Staying Connected guide includes tips to cope with loneliness in later life. Download the Staying Connected guide for free.

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Learn how personal alarms and home monitoring solutions can keep you or your loved ones safe and independent at home.

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