July 26, 2021

Therapy for All Ages: Mental Wellness and Aging

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 five older adults experiences 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, chronic 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 older patients with mental health conditions

For physicians and geriatric caretakers, identifying behavioral changes in your patients and 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 is 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 older patients’ 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 older adults develop strategies and skills for grief, loss, and isolation, which often affect this population’s 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 the 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.
  • Functional impairment: Older adults may experience difficulty in taking care of themselves or performing day-to-day tasks.
  • History of drug or alcohol abuse, or current heavy alcohol consumption
  • Stressful life events

There are also social and emotional aspects that can affect older adults’ 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. 

Even for older adults in good health, watching classmates, teammates, veteran buddies, and former friends experiencing a decline in health or developing severe health conditions can have a profound effect on their sense of mortality. 

A licensed therapist is not only a great listener but also a highly skilled agent of change. For the eight in ten older Americans with a chronic disease and the 77% with at least two chronic conditions, going to a therapist can profoundly affect their physical health

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

  • Develop coping skills for grief and loss.
  • Reduce stress. This is especially important in chronic conditions. For example, stress can aggravate diabetes by raising blood sugar levels, impairing glucose tolerance, and affecting blood pressure. 
  • Establish healthier habits. A therapist can help measure follow-through with a patient’s care team’s recommendations for medication management, dietary, or lifestyle changes.
  • Assess for more serious mental health or neurological conditions, like dementia. Early screening and diagnosis of these conditions ensure that individuals receive the right care and appropriate treatment plans. Learn more about the importance of cognitive changes here.

Getting started with therapy is easy

SonderMind can help your older 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 call 720-674-8866 or email [email protected] to learn more about our streamlined