From the Editor: Addressing Mental Health in Older Adults
Mental health concerns are often overlooked or undertreated in older adults, for a variety of reasons and with potentially severe consequences. It’s a problem that’s magnified by the fact that the global population is aging quickly, with the number of individuals older than 60 expected to double from 2015 to 2050.
According to a 2015 report in Health Affairs, “Many physicians aren’t trained to recognize mental illness in the elderly, patients are often reluctant to discuss their emotional difficulties, and some even blame themselves for not being happier, according to advocates for the mentally ill and physicians trained in geriatric psychiatry.”
In many cases the failure to recognize psychological conditions among geriatric patients is because diseases and age-related changes resemble the symptoms of conditions such as anxiety and depression.
More older adults, for example, experience depression than they do dementia, yet they often go undiagnosed, in part because they present in atypical ways or because their depressive symptoms are similar to those of other diseases. They’re also at greater risk of depression due to contributing factors such as loneliness, debilitating health conditions, disabilities, and vascular diseases that directly affect the brain and, equally, have psychological repercussions.
And on the flip side, mental health issues that go unmanaged may have a detrimental impact on physical disease as well, particularly heart health.
Furthermore, stigma surrounding psychological disorders may prevent older adults from seeking help.
Beyond the repercussions on quality of life, this lack of attention may contribute to the fact that older adults are more likely than younger people to die by suicide.
In a feature in this issue, contributor Mark Coggins addresses another frequently overlooked mental health condition that’s common in older adults—ADHD—and urges clinicians to be alert to the signs and symptoms that are often in plain sight.
Increased awareness of mental illness by all geriatrics professionals as well as advocacy for increased training in screening is crucial to the total health of older adults.