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Monitoring mental health in older people

Posted on 08/10/2015

On Saturday 10 October, it’s World Mental Health Day, which is an international day of recognition of mental health conditions and their impact on people’s daily lives.

The theme for this year’s day is Dignity. In the UK, the Mental Health Foundation (MHF) is supplying lots of information about mental health issues in preparation for World Mental Health Day.

It’s important that mental health issues are given the same care and attention as physical conditions, as they can be just as crippling in the extreme. According to the MHF, one in four adults will have a mental health problem each year. It is also estimated that only 25% people in the UK with a mental health problem will receive ongoing treatment.

Prevention is a key part of helping to manage the huge growth in mental health conditions. There are certain groups of people that are more vulnerable, and this includes older people (especially those living alone), those with long-term health conditions and carers, although mental health problems can affect people from any walk of life and at any age.

For older people, the biggest mental health conditions to watch out for are depression, anxiety and dementia. Depression can affect one in five older people living at home and two in five living in a care home, and yet 85% of older people with depression get no help from the NHS*.

Mental health problems are common in older people due to a number of factors. It can be directly linked to physical health conditions, especially those that leave them unable to do things that they could do before. The lack of independence in certain areas and adapting to that can be hard to come to terms with. It is important that when a care plan is being created to help deal with the physical health conditions that their mental wellbeing is also considered, and ways to maintain independence and participation in activities is also reviewed.

The inability to take part in ‘meaningful’ activities is also a problem in itself. An older person, especially one who lives alone, may find it hard to get out and about to community events or groups, or to motivate themselves to take up a hobby, but these things can help to fend of feelings of isolation and loneliness, which can lead to depression and anxiety. Having a hobby also keeps the mind active and this can be useful in delaying or preventing the onset of dementia.  

These meaningful activities could include:

Arts and crafts

Fitness

Gardening

Computing

Dancing

Baking and cooking

Music

Encouraging and enabling elderly people to take part in these kinds of things is a method of prevention for mental health conditions.

Loneliness can have a big impact too, especially at certain times of the year, such as Christmas, New Year and Easter, which are traditionally spent with family. There are various charities and agencies that are trying to work within communities to raise awareness of the impact of loneliness to combat the rise in related mental health conditions.

Family members who are worried about an older parent or relative can help them to cope with loneliness, by being aware of the issues surrounding it and knowing how to spot the signs, so that it can be dealt with before becoming more serious.

*Statistics taken from ‘Fundamental Facts About Mental Health’ by the Mental Health Foundation 

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