September 23, 2020
The world’s population is aging rapidly. The World Health Organization estimates that the percentage of the geriatric population in the world will nearly double, going from 12 percent in 2015 to 22 percent in 2050! Some call this age boom the “silver tsunami.” With this huge shift in the population, it is critical that we focus on the special needs of older adults — regarding both their physical and mental health.
We all know and love someone who is an older adult. Some are still working, and many volunteer their time. While most may have good mental health, geriatric mental health issues are a concern for others. Older adults are at risk for developing mental disorders, whether alone or in combination with other chronic health conditions.
About one in four American adults ages 60 and older suffer from some type of mental health issue. Depression and dementia are the top two offenders. Unfortunately, these diagnoses are not always identified by older adults, their caregivers, or their families. Add to that the stigma that surrounds mental illness, and you have an even bigger hurdle to seeking help.
A Mental Health America survey identified several factors that may prevent early diagnosis and treatment of geriatric mental health issues:
So, what can you do if you feel you or a loved one may be suffering from a mental health problem, particularly depression? Remember that the symptoms can be very subtle — it’s not always obvious signs like sadness and crying. You might notice changes in personality, withdrawal from normal social activities, or a change in weight, appetite, or sleep. Basically, if something just doesn’t seem right, talk to your doctor. Health care professionals are becoming more educated about geriatric mental health issues and can often do a screening in their office. Trust your doctor to get you the help you need.
Even if you don’t suspect something as serious as depression, keep in mind that isolation and loneliness in older adults is an even bigger problem in the United States. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 11 million people ages 65 and older lived alone in 2010. Living alone doesn’t necessarily mean you will become socially isolated, but it can contribute to it. Social distancing through the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic doesn’t help.
Keep these important facts about isolation of older adults in mind:
If you are an older adult and considering ways to combat loneliness and isolation, think about volunteering, taking a class, or participating in your local senior center. And talk with your doctor — loneliness and depression don’t have to be part of aging!
If you know an older adult, ask yourself if you think he or she is isolated or lonely. Even in a big city like Philadelphia where you’re surrounded by people, we can be lonely and isolated. Make time to visit or offer to help with little jobs. If you have kids, include them in these visits, too. During the pandemic, visiting can be a challenge, but it is possible with masks!
Visit the Pennsylvania Department of Aging to find local resources for geriatric mental health issues and other challenges. If you’re concerned about an older adult in another state, you can find information and resources at eldercare.acl.gov.
This article was originally published on IBX Insights.
I joined Independence Blue Cross in 2015 after practicing Geriatrics for nearly 30 years. In my current role I function as the medical liaison to our Government markets team, serving as a subject matter expert on clinical medicine and healthcare delivery. What I love about my new position is the opportunity to help an entire population of people through the benefits of their health plan.