Mental Health and the Elderly

We welcome back, guest author, Alice Porter who shares her thoughts on what to look out for in spotting the signs of mental health issues in our elderly and how we can help them to improve their mental health.


According to the Mental Health Foundation, the 5 key factors that affect the mental health and wellbeing of older people are:

  1. discrimination
  2. participation in meaningful activities
  3. relationships
  4. physical health
  5. poverty

These key factors have massive implications on how vulnerable and susceptible the elderly are to mental health problems. The most common mental health problems that occur in people aged 65 and older are dementia and depression, which can alter their moods, personalities and actions.

Getting older, and retirement, mean a change in lifestyle for most which is why it is important to take care of yourself both physically and mentally. There is a general assumption that mental health problems are a normal aspect of ageing; 20 percent of adults aged 55, or older, have some type of mental health concern. However, whilst a significant number of people develop depression or dementia in old age, these conditions are not necessarily an inevitable part of getting older.

Changes and Indicators

It’s natural for some changes to occur as our loved ones get older. Regular forgetfulness is to be expected, but persistent memory loss and cognitive impairment is something that can be more serious and an indication of a mental illness. Some of the most serious indicators that your loved one is suffering with a mental illness are:

  • sadness and withdrawal that lasts for a long period of time
  • energy loss
  • confusion
  • a change in appetite
  • complete memory loss
  • feelings of worthlessness
  • changes in dress
  • trouble handling finances or working with numbers

These signs are all red flags and should be addressed swiftly. One of the best things to do is to speak to a professional (ie a doctor or a geriatric psychiatrist) so that you can ensure the best care and advice.

How to Improve the Lives of the Elderly

As previously mentioned, some of the key factors that affect mental health are the participation in meaningful activities and relationships with others. So, it’s of utmost importance to make sure that you have regular contact with your loved ones and that you encourage them to partake in cognitive activities such as brain teasers, Sudoku and crossword puzzles as this will help to keep them sharp.

If you’re unable to see them every day, then it’s important to have other ways of checking up on them. Some of the best ways to keep in contact are through FaceTime or through other technologies like the GrandCare system (which will allow you to stay connected and access useful health information through a Care Portal). Both these methods are good as they allow your loved one to feel close, and connected, with you and they won’t feel excluded from technology.

If an elderly person keeps their mind active, partakes in activities they enjoy, remains social and feels loved, then the risk of contracting depression or developing dementia is significantly reduced.

If you notice your loved one experiencing any of the aforementioned symptoms, then don’t hesitate to seek help or advice; it’s our responsibility to ensure that the elderly remain happy, healthy and feel like they are being cared for.

About the author
Bob Brotchie

Bob Brotchie is a counsellor, life coach and creator of Conscious Living by Design™. He writes for Anglia Counselling, is featured on various other websites and introduces us to many guest writers all covering topics related to mental health and wellbeing.

Bob provides bespoke counselling services to clients in the privacy and comfort of a truly welcoming environment at his Anglia Counselling company office, located near Newmarket in Suffolk, England. Bob also provides professional online counselling, for local, national, and international clients. The therapeutic models offered are bespoke to the client’s needs, especially those in receipt of 'childhood emotional neglect' (CEN), whilst integrating a mindful approach to psychotherapy and cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) principles. For clients experiencing trauma and/or phobia, Bob offers EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing).

4 Comments

  1. Tim

    I was at a meeting last evening regarding setting up a volunteer force for a ‘thing’. and one of the participants told us we were elderly, so your piece, Alice, is timely.

    At social events here in my town we often hear “Elderly people don’t like to go out in the evening.”

    The thing is, I’m 64. I will just manage to creep in to being able to draw my state pension at 65. Folk born a year later have to wait until 66, and so it goes. Soon we will work until we are 70. I have a part time job. I have the care on the water of up to 13 other people as well as me. I do a job with inherent dangers and risk as a boat skipper. There is no upper age limit on my job, just continuous proof of competence plus the same, albeit more regular, medical certification that I must have sub 65 to be able to do it today.

    I also have my own mental health issues. Sometimes they are so tiny as to be imperceptible, other times they can really get in the way. And I have gone into rooms and wondered why I went into them since I was a kid.

    “Have I had my tea?”

    My question is about the word ‘Elderly’. I know full well I’m an old fart. My son is happy to tell me so. So are my older colleagues. I’m happy to tell them so, too. An organisation I volunteer for has the oldest active volunteer as a 91 year old.

    So, that question. It’s based on your post title, ‘Mental Health and the Elderly’ and those key points:

    * discrimination
    * participation in meaningful activities
    * relationships
    * physical health
    * poverty

    Here’s the thing:

    * I get discriminated against anyway. I’m gay. I’m also married to a woman
    * I can participate or not in as many meaningful activates as I choose
    * Relationships are not just with my wife, they are with my friends, too. Some are older, others younger
    * Can’t do much about physical health, but I’m not yet frail. I do have type 2 diabetes. I can lose and am losing a load of weight to get that under better control

    You’ve got me defensive, you see. It’s that word. ‘Elderly’.

    When do I get elderly?

    And why?

    • Tim

      The more I look at this topic, Alice, the more I wonder why it is about this group labelled “The Elderly”

      You said “These key factors have massive implications on how vulnerable and susceptible the elderly are to mental health problems. The most common mental health problems that occur in people aged 65 and older are dementia and depression, which can alter their moods, personalities and actions.”

      Now dementia is a degenerative disease, isn’t it? Depression is an ailment of a totally different colour. With dementia I wonder, sometimes, if it is not linked to longevity. We encounter it more and more because more and more of us are living longer and longer? Or am I mistaken?

      Is dementia a mental health issue per se, or is it like osteoarthritis, the longer you live the more you acquire the degeneration?

      Is there a genetic, thus inevitable, component to dementia, or is it acquired by some other route? We used to blame aluminium saucepans for a while.

      Isn’t the issue more likely to afflict folk, all folk, as they live longer the depression panoply of illnesses? We know some of these to be transient, others to be triggered, still others to be swings between extremes, and others again to be the products of or the causes of obsessional behaviours. Indeed, there are more types of depression than you can shake a stick at, not least of which is post natal, something the older lady is unlikely to encounter.

      Take what I choose to call ‘simple depression’ a relatively short lived ailment that besets those susceptible to it triggered by some form of grief. The sufferer is first sad, then the sadness endures rather longer than anyone, especially the sufferer would wish.

      As we live longer there is a tendency to outlive our friends. I’ve outlived several of mine. One was a new friend who meant more to me than I expected. I was sad. My sadness passed. If I experience the more often, something I intend to do since I intend to be immortal, will I acquire depression?

      I think not.

      Could be wrong, but I think not.

      I’m arguing with you, Alice. I’d hoped to be discussing this with you but you haven’t answered my first questions yet.

      I may be turning into that old man with the plastic shopping bag shouting at traffic. That image comes from Bill Baiiey

      I’m arguing with you about being given a label and put into a box. Then I’m arguing about the contents of the box. There’s a great argument to be had here. In a while Bob has been kind and told me that he is going to post a piece that your piece created in me.

      We could have the argument here, or there. It could be a lot of fun, help folk think differently, help me, help you think differently. The piece just before yours is about a community and what I need from it.

      It could be a thunderclap of revelation

      Or, I suppose, it could be the sound of on hand clapping.

      • Sonya

        The word ‘elder’ used to/or does imply respect for someone older than ourselves or having more experience.

        Funny how adding ‘ly’ to it changes the feeling totally.

        Interesting points to make us think, Tim.

Comments are closed.

Mental Health and the Elderly

by Bob Brotchie time to read: 2 min
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