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Senior Mental Health

Today is World Senior Citizen’s Day. In honour of the occasion we thought we would share some information about mental health in older adults, things to look out for and how to best cope with mental health struggles in the later parts of life.

elderly brown woman smiling with healthy mental wellbeing

Did You Know?

  • By the year 2030, nearly 1 in 4 Canadians will be a senior.
  • An individual’s likelihood of experiencing a mental health problem or illness increases from age 69 and up.
  • The highest suicide rates in Canada are currently by men who are 80 or older.
  • According to Statistics Canada, up to 1.4 million elderly people in Canada feel lonely.
  • Currently, 1 in 4 seniors live with a mental illness.
senior brown man smiling with healthy mental health

Factors Increasing Risk of Mental Illness

There are many factors that occur in this stage of life that increase an older adults’ susceptibility to mental illness. These include:

  • Long-term illness such as cancer, Parkinson’s or heart disease
  • Illnesses relating to dementia such as Alzheimer’s
  • Loss of mobility or disability
  • Loss of a loved one or core social supports
  • Malnutrition or a poor diet
  • Alcohol and substance abuse
  • Medication side effects or interactions

This framework from CMHA National additionally outlines the key factors that are necessary for positive mental health for seniors.

elderly woman carrying flower basket with open smile

Symptoms of Mental Health in the Elderly

Here are some of the common warning signs that an elderly or senior person may experience when struggling with mental illness:

  • Problems maintaining their home or a difference in appearance or dress
  • Confusion, disorientation or difficulty making decisions
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Overall depressed mood
  • Memory loss
  • Extreme fatigue or energy loss
  • Difficulties sleeping
  • Feelings of worthlessness, guilt or helplessness
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Physical symptoms that cannot be attributed to other illnesses such as aches, pain and constipation
  • Trouble handling finances

Withdrawal or isolation from activities that used to be enjoyable

elderly couple walking away outside holding arms

Reasons Why Seniors Don’t Reach Out for Help

There are many reasons why a senior or elderly person may not reach out for help or receive the mental health care they need. These include:

  • Symptoms are mistaken for other conditions
  • Discrimination and stigma—especially since they grew up in a time where mental illness was not as recognized or discussed
  • Belief that they’re too old to bother—No matter one’s age, good mental health is a key factor for a happy life
  • Physical or financial concerns—That make it difficult for them to get to appointments or afford the services they need

Availability of appropriate treatment—Not being able to access treatment that meets their needs

elderly woman with granddaughter looking at a phone together to understand senior mental health

How to Cope

Here are some tips that can helpful for older adults struggling with mental illness:

  • Keep the brain active—Spending time playing puzzles and games, journaling, learning new things, listening to music, etc. can help keep the mind engaged.
  • Exercise—Like in all stages of life, physical activity is the key to positive mental health. Check out our article on the connection between physical and mental health for more information.
  • Stay Connected—Help limit feelings of loneliness by staying connected with others. For tips on staying connected during COVID-19 check out the Canadian Coalition for Seniors’ Mental Health Virtual Visits Toolkit.
  • Consider Getting a Pet—Where appropriate connecting with pets can help to reduce loneliness, while also increasing physical activity.
  • Volunteer—During COVID-19 there are not as many opportunities to get involved in the community, but start to research for when things open up again. Here’s some ways you can volunteer here at CMHA.
  • Connect with our Telephone-Based Supportive Counselling line if you need someone to talk to.
  • Learn about free online and virtual mental health supports- Through our province-wide
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