Mental Health Awareness for Seniors

Author: Debbie Humphrey

On a recent Saturday afternoon, a notification chimed on my phone that caught my attention. A country music star had died at the age of 76. When I opened the story to read more, I learned it was Naomi Judd who had died due to “the disease of mental illness.”

I shared this solemn news with my husband, and he immediately commented, “It must have been suicide.” The coroner confirmed this through an autopsy within days of Judd’s death.

What made this news even more troubling was Judd chose to end her life one day before being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, which should have been a celebratory event for her and her family. Instead, they ended up “broken and blessed,” as Wynona explained at the induction ceremony.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and this tragic story has stuck with me. Apparently, Judd suffered from “untreatable depression” that stemmed from traumatic events in her past, which goes to show, that you never know what someone else is going through at any given time.

The American Psychology Association (APA) acknowledges, “Psychologists are studying and treating the mental and behavioral problems associated with growing old, such as (the) loss of (a) spouse, loss of mobility and independence, admittance to a long-term care facility and declining physical and sometimes mental health.”

The APA says some of the mental health challenges facing America’s aging population include:

Mental Health Concerns – Mental health concerns carry with them a stigma that may inhibit seniors from accessing professional help. Aside from that, funding for and costs of mental health services is a factor, as well as denial of mental health challenges, access to mental health services, and a genuine lack of geriatric mental health service providers.

The APA added, “Fear, distress, anger, stress, social support and relaxation have been shown to influence immune and cardiac functions, susceptibility to infection, pain, asthma and recovery from surgery.”

Depression and Suicide – As in the case of Naomi Judd, the APA cites, “As many as 20 percent of older adults and up to 37 percent of nursing home residents suffer from depression, a condition that may lead to suicide.”

Seniors have the highest rate of suicide of any age group. This may be due to depression being undiagnosed because it coincides with underlying medical conditions. It may be because medical doctors see life events like the loss of a spouse as normal occurrences of aging. Regardless of the reason, the APA says three-fourths of seniors who choose to end their life have seen their physician within the prior month, and I find this stat to be stunning.

Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia – “Dementia, the irreversible deterioration of intellectual ability — often accompanied by emotional disturbances — afflicts as many as 7 percent of Americans over the age of 65 and 30 percent over age 85. People with dementia often suffer from depression, paranoia, and anxiety. Alzheimer's disease, the most common cause of dementia, affects between 2.6 to 4.5 million Americans aged 65 and over. It affects 12 million people worldwide, and this number is expected to increase to more than 22 million people by 2025. In fact, the number of Alzheimer's disease cases doubles every five years from age 65 to 85,” according to the APA.

Substance Abuse – Alcohol abuse is in the top eight leading causes of death for older Americans. It leads to malnutrition, cirrhosis of the liver, osteomalacia, and cognitive decline.

“It is estimated that 17 percent of older adults misuse and abuse alcohol and medications. Although the majority (87 percent) of older adults visit a physician regularly, about 40 percent of those who are at risk for substance abuse problems do not self-identify or seek services and are unlikely to be identified by their physicians,” says the APA.

Chronic Illness – The APA states, “85 percent of older adults have at least one chronic illness: Almost 50 percent have arthritis, 40 percent have hypertension, 30 percent have heart disease, 12 percent have diabetes, 30 percent have hearing loss, 15 percent cataracts and 10 percent have a stroke. Behavior including such habits as poor diet, inactivity, alcohol, and tobacco contribute to the onset of chronic illnesses while other behaviors such as medication compliance, a controlled diet, and exercise program often assist in the treatment and recovery (or remission of) chronic illnesses.”

These statistics are in line with what we routinely encounter with our clients.

Need for More Geriatric Psychologists (Geropsychologists) – There is a disparity between the number of students studying psychology and those who are focused on the mental health of seniors. Only about 0.4% of psychology students study geriatric mental health. This means there is a strong need for more geropsychologists to help aging adults.

“Geropsychologists apply the knowledge and techniques of psychology to help older persons and their families maintain well-being, improve quality of life, overcome problems, and achieve maximum potential during later life,” the APA says.

Naomi Judd may have had a form of “untreatable depression,” but I’ve heard it said before, suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary situation. Maybe she would have felt differently if she had waited until after the Hall of Fame ceremony. Maybe not.

Please remember, if you or a senior loved one is experiencing mental health challenges such as depression, I strongly encourage you to speak to your doctor who may recommend professional mental health services. Your/Their life matters, so it is important to seek help from someone!

A compassionate caregiver can also provide assistance with in-home care services that can make life easier and more enjoyable. I am happy to offer a FREE Consultation to assess specific needs and create a personalized care plan to help.

We, at Home Helpers® Clearwater, are honored to have received the Home Care Pulse – Best of Home Care® Provider of Choice Award 2016-2022 and the Best of Home Care® Employer of Choice Award 2022. We proudly serve male and female seniors in Clearwater, Dunedin, Palm Harbor, Safety Harbor, Tarpon Springs, Holiday, New Port Richey, Trinity, Port Richey, Hudson, and surrounding areas. Home Helpers®…we are Making Life Easier℠ 727.942.2539


American Psychology Association


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