May is Mental Health Awareness month. One in four older adults experiences some type of mental disorder, including depression, anxiety, or dementia.
As noted by Dr. Dilip Jeste, a geriatric psychiatrist, in an article posted by the National Alliance on Mental Illness:
Just as children are not small adults, elderly people are not merely older adults. They have unique health care needs. The most common neuropsychiatric disorder in older people is dementia, especially Alzheimer’s disease. While major depression is less common, milder forms of depression are far more common than in younger adults. Also, because of age-related changes in the functioning of liver, kidneys and brain, older people can only tolerate lower doses of most medications and are at a greater risk of developing a number of side effects. They also have special needs for psychosocial treatments (e.g., they are less likely to be living with their families). Additionally, they tend to have major physical illnesses and disabilities, have visual and hearing impairments, and have even less access to health care than younger adults. As a result, fewer than half of older Americans with mental illness receive the needed mental health services. They face the dual stigma of mental illness and aging. Finally, there is a severe shortage of workforce trained to provide the necessary mental and physical health care for the growing numbers of older adults.
Caring for an aging loved one can be difficult, and symptoms of mental illness add an additional layer of complexity. Dementia, depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses, aren’t curable, but early diagnosis and consistent treatment can help your loved one manage her symptoms and maintain a good quality of life.
If you or your loved one is dealing with a mental health disorder, you do not have to face it alone. Many non-profit organizations offer resources and support for people like you, including the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the Alzheimer’s Association, and the Suicide Prevention Resource Center.
Our office can help you plan to protect your quality of life in the event that you develop mental health symptoms that prevent you from functioning independently. We can help you develop a response team – a group of people you trust who can make sure that your finances and health care needs are managed in the way you would want them to be managed, even in situations in which you can’t make decisions for yourself. Once you have identified your response team, we help you create the legal documents that give your response team the authority to carry out your wishes.
It’s important to realize that, for many older adults, mental health disorders such as dementia and depression are as much a part of their daily lives as the physical issues we more readily associate with aging. Everyone deserves support in overcoming all of the challenges, both physical and mental, that they face in growing old with dignity.