Mental Health in Aging / Older Adults

By: Tanya Kramer

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the world’s population is aging fast.

  • In 2020, there were 1 billion people who are 60 years or older
  • In 2030, it is believe that this number will increase to 1.4 billion
  • By 2050, it is believed that this number will increase to 2.1 billion
  • The number of persons aged 80 years or older is expected to triple between 2020 to 2050 (hitting over 425 million people)

There are many benefits to having a large aging population, since these individuals often give back to their family and community through volunteering and acts of service. However, many of these individuals may need additional support due to mental health conditions or physical/medical limitations. 

Mental health in aging adults is a Public Health Issue that must be addressed. This article will focus on the following topics around mental health for aging populations:

  • What external factors impact mental health as someone ages?
  • What are the key mental health concerns?
  • What are suggestions for the aging population and those that love them to improve quality of life?
  • Resources for the Aging Population and their Caregivers

   What external factors impact mental health as someone ages?

  • Bereavement / Grief – losing loved ones occurs more often
  • Serious illness
  • Drop in income
  • Reduced sense of purpose
  • Being impacted by “ageism”
  • Physical limitations / chronic illnesses / pain
  • Abuse (physical, verbal, psychological, sexual, or financial)
  • Lack of access to support
  • Loneliness / Social Isolation
  • Needing long term care

  Key Mental Health Concerns:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Substance Abuse
  • Suicide (Global Health Estimates show around a quarter of deaths by suicide occur by those age 60 or older)
  • Dementia / Alzheimer’s Disease / Cognitive Decline
  • Personality Disorders that already exist are susceptible to worsening with age

  Suggestions for the Aging Population:

  • Physical / Social environments that support well-being
  • Environments that enable people to do what is important to them (despite losses in capacity)
  • Safe person to discuss emotions – “How are you feeling right now?”
  • Stress management skills and resources
  • Financial planning to support long lives
  • Resources to access needs such as groceries, medical appointments, and important events
  • Social and Emotional Support (Family, Friends, caregivers, Therapists, Community, etc.)
  • Experiencing Life Satisfaction as a Whole
  • Maintain a Routine including a balanced diet, movement/exercise / yoga, and activities that bring joy

Identifying Gratitude / Moments of Delight / Thankful Statements:

  • Physically active to the extent the body can
  • Reduction of harmful things such as smoking, alcohol, and drugs
  • Accessing health and social programs to keep individuals engaged in their community
  • Social connections
  • Meaningful social activities
  • Counseling and Support Groups for aging experiences
  • Social Skills Training
  • Occupational Therapy as needed when adapting to new limitations
  • Creative Art outlets or groups
  • Educational opportunities / Stay active intellectually by learning new things
  • Improve sleep by setting and maintaining good sleep habits
  • Volunteering for programs
  • Leisure / Fun activities
  • Support for carers of aging individuals
  • Medication management for mental health
  • County Resources often have an Aging and Disability Department that can connect individuals to resources in their community…and these services are often free
  • Get help in a Crisis….You do not need to navigate this alone.

Resources for the Aging Population and their Caregivers:

University of Washington Health Promotion Research Center – PEARLS Toolkit 

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) – Resources for Older Adults 

Emotional Well Being Videos 

Mass General Brigham McLean – Everything You Need to Know About Older Adult Mental Health 

Family Caregiver Alliance