The Benefits of Therapy for Senior Patients

7
min read

Aging is a natural process that can present unique changes and challenges for some individuals and their families. While some physical and mental changes, like mild declines in energy and cognition, are common developments in the aging process, there are physical and mental changes that physicians and geriatric caretakers can be mindful of to ensure patients receive the best health care for their needs. 

Mental health in older adults

One-in-four older adults experience some type of mental health concern. The most common conditions include anxiety, severe cognitive impairment, and mood disorders (such as depression or bipolar disorder). About 58% of people aged 65 and older believe that it is “normal” for people to get depressed as they grow older, but the truth is that depression is not inherently part of the aging process.. 

Mental and behavioral health conditions in older adults can be complex in their origins and influences. Comorbidities, like high heart rate, increased blood pressure, trouble concentrating, headaches, and pain, and even certain medications can cause similar symptoms, making it difficult to determine if a mental or behavioral health condition is affecting your patient. 

Supporting senior patients with mental health conditions

For physicians and geriatric caretakers, identifying behavioral changes in your patients as well as risk factors for mental health conditions can help you determine the best treatment options for your patients and  if they may benefit from mental health care. The good news: Many mental and behavioral health conditions are treatable. About 80-90% of patients with depression eventually respond well to treatment and almost all patients gain some relief from their symptoms. 

Adding mental health support to seniors’ treatment plans can provide a wide variety of benefits. Psychotherapy has been shown to improve quality of life through reduced stress, reduced symptoms in common physical conditions, and improved compliance to medical recommendations, resulting in improved clinical outcomes. Therapy can also help seniors develop strategies and skills for grief, loss, and isolation, which often affect seniors’ mental health. 

Some risk factors for mental and behavioral health conditions in older adults include:

  • Co-occurring illnesses (especially chronic illnesses or conditions)
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Heart disease 
  • Cancer
  • Arthritis (or other chronic pain conditions)
  • Stroke
  • Diabetes
  • Certain medications: Including Beta-Blockers, corticosteroids, Parkinson’s medications, Anticholinergic drugs, thyroid medications, and more.
  • Widowhood: One-third of widows/widowers meet criteria for depression in the first month after the death of their spouse, and half of these individuals remain clinically depressed after one year
  • Older adult attitudes toward depression: Older Adults are less likely to report psychiatric symptoms and more likely to emphasize physical complaints.
  • Impaired Functional Status
  • History of drug or alcohol abuse, or current heavy alcohol consumption
  • Stressful life events

There are also social and emotional aspects that can affect seniors’ mental health. People over 65 experience grief and loss often, and it is not only related to death. There is also the inherent loss of abilities, independence, and a sense of purpose, all of which can impact mood, physical ability, and general health and wellness. 

The uses and benefits of therapy

Even for seniors in good health, watching classmates, teammates, veteran buddies, and former friends experiencing a decline in health or developing serious health conditions can have a profound effect on their sense of mortality. COVID-19 has added the twist of not being able to visit seriously ill friends, formally grieve, or gather to pay respects and live out the rituals that are an important part of the passing of life. 

A licensed therapist is not only a great listener, but also a highly skilled agent of change. For the eight-in-ten older adults in America with a chronic disease and the 77% with at least two chronic diseases, going to a therapist can have profound effects on their physical health

These are a few of the ways in which seniors benefit from continued sessions with a therapist:

  • Develop coping skills for grief and loss, which seniors frequently experience
  • Continued therapy helps reduce stress, which is important in chronic conditions, like diabetes. Stress can aggravate diabetes by raising blood sugar levels, impairing glucose tolerance, and affecting blood pressure. 
  • Therapists can help seniors establish healthier habits.  Like following through with doctor’s treatment recommendations for medication management, dietary, lifestyle, or exercise recommendations. 
  • Therapists can also assess for more serious mental health or even neurological conditions, like dementia. Early screening and diagnosis of these kinds of conditions ensures that individuals receive the right care and appropriate treatment plans.

For individuals with dementia, therapists may work with physicians, geriatric caretakers, or even family caretakers as part of a healthcare team. A therapist can work in alignment with the healthcare team to help individuals with dementia form skills and strategies to manage emotions related to the diagnosis, discuss current treatment plans, and specific behaviors to improve.  

Getting started with therapy is easy

SonderMind can help your senior patients take the first step toward improved mental wellness and overall health by finding an affordable, licensed therapist in your area. For current partners, connect your patients to a therapist in 24-48 hours here. For prospective partners, you can contact 720-674-8866 or partnership@sondermind.com to learn more about our streamlined, mental health referral services.