The Impact of Ageing on Mental Health

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While the elders have experienced life’s sweetness and sourness more than anyone in the family and have triumphantly crossed to the next stage of adulthood, sometimes they, too, need a leg-up. We as a society need to remember that older adults can be affected by mental health issues as well. The cause is that they are not in the best health as they grow old; this hits hard on some older adults as they find it difficult to ask for help or discuss this issue. 

Signs of mental health issues

Issues related to mental health can worsen the physical health of an older adult. It also becomes a roadblock to the recovery of an existing illness. Sometimes, mental illness might get better when one age and other times, it declines. It is essential to look out for signs when an elderly needs help; here are a few of the signs to look out for:

  • Constant worrying
  • High-stress levels
  • Difficulty to sleep
  • Negative or suicidal thoughts
  • Unusual behaviour
  • Irritability
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Substance abuse
  • Constant pain in the body or headaches
  • Extreme anger 
  • Loss of appetite or weight

Mental health issues affecting older adults

Reasons for Mental Health Issues

The mental health requirements of an older adult are slightly different from those of the younger population. Things such as relocating the death of a fellow senior citizen or bodily illnesses can affect the mental health of an older adult. The most common mental health issues faced by senior citizens are:

1. Depression

As people grow older, they face several issues, some related to emotional health and some to declining physical health. Either of them affects the person’s mental health. Depression in older adults is often ignored as it is wrongly believed that symptoms of depression are part of getting old. And access to the treatments is also often brushed off because of the stigma surrounding it. Some of the common reasons for depression in older adults are:

  • Loneliness & isolation
  • Reduced sense of purpose
  • Health problems
  • Death of close ones

Depression in older adults can also be caused by the medication taken for other health problems, like:

  • Blood pressure
  • Beta-blockers
  • High cholesterol
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Sleeping pills
  • Heart disease
  • Ulcer 
  • Steroids
  • Estrogen

A few medical conditions might also cause depression either as a side effect or as a psychological reaction. Some of these diseases are:

  • Cancer
  • Thyroid disorder
  • Heart disease
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Stroke 
  • Diabetes 
  • Lupus 
  • Dementia
  • Multiple sclerosis

2. Substance abuse

Substance abuse in older adults is more common than we think. It is unrecognizable initially, as most older adults tend to live alone and sometimes isolate themselves. The symptoms might also be ignored, thinking they are typical signs of ageing. It is more than a casual drink; older adults might turn to substances as a support for various reasons. Some of the reasons are:

  • Financial issues
  • Loneliness
  • Loss of a friend or family member
  • Family conflicts 
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Chronic pain
  • History of substance abuse

Some of the symptoms of substance abuse in older adults are,

  • Memory loss
  • Confusion
  • Slurred speech
  • Anxiety
  • Mood swings
  • Loss of interest in everyday activities
  • Poor hygiene 

One can begin to help an older adult suffering from substance abuse by talking to them about it without judgement and being kind to them. They need to realize that they need help without being bullied. Once this is done, you can get them the required help. 

3. Dementia

Dementia is not a disease but the state of a person’s mental function. Dementia occurs when the part of the brain responsible for language, learning, decision making and memory is infected or affected by disease. Several reasons might cause dementia in older adults:

  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Mixed dementia
  • Alzheimer’s 
  • Lewy body dementia 
  • Frontotemporal dementia
  • Vascular dementia

Sometimes dementia is treatable when it is due to certain medications or due to a side effect of a disease that can be treated. For example, dementia due to thyroid medication is treatable.

Symptoms of dementia vary depending on each individual; the following are the common symptoms that may be seen in a person who has dementia:

  • Not knowing the time and date
  • Difficulty with finding the right words
  • Changes in mood and behaviour
  • Misplacing common items
  • Repeating words or comments
  • Forgetfulness 
  • Lessening of rational thinking
  • Being depressed
  • Worst-case scenarios also include experiencing hallucinations and needing help with everyday activities. Generally, older adults need round-the-clock care

4. Anxiety 

Feeling anxious or nervous is common among adults and children, but when it starts interfering with an individual’s everyday life, it is better to get help. Anxiety can be seen in different forms in older adults; some of the common ones are:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
  • Phobias
  • Panic disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Anxiety in older adults often goes undiagnosed as they learn to live with it or mask their symptoms. Some of the common ways anxiety in older adults can be seen are:

  • Trembling and feeling panicked 
  • Struggling to breathe and sweating
  • Experiencing nausea 
  • Feeling dizzy or faint 
  • Experiencing digestive issues 
  • Chest discomfort 
  • Suffering from headaches 
  • Experiencing vision problems
  • Feeling tense and fatigued 
  • Having irrational thoughts 
  • Forgetfulness 
  • Feeling easily irritated 
  • Avoiding activities, places, people, and thoughts that trigger anxiety 
  • Experiencing changes in weight, appetite, or eating habits 
  • Struggling to sleep 
  • Isolating oneself 
  • Having obsessive thoughts and engaging in compulsive behaviorism 

5. Suicide 

Older adults have the highest suicide rate. They often become the prey of loneliness and isolation. Loneliness doesn’t necessarily mean living alone; a person living alone can have an excellent social life. A person who is thinking about suicide doesn’t always want to end their life; they are looking for a way for the pain to stop. Here are some of the common reasons why an older adult might want to end their life,

  • Financial crisis
  • Loneliness
  • Depression
  • Death of spouse or loved one
  • Sense of purposeless

Here are some of the signs and symptoms that can be identified when an older adult feels suicidal, 

  • Previous suicide attempts 
  • Disinterest in future plans 
  • Sense of losing independence or purpose 
  • Medical conditions that greatly limit functioning or life expectancy 
  • Impulsiveness caused by cognitive impairment 
  • Social isolation 
  • Significant difficulty adapting to change 
  • Engaging in daring or risk-taking behaviour 
  • Sudden changes in personality 
  • Misuse or abuse of alcohol or medication 
  • Verbal threats of suicide
  • Giving away cherished possessions 

How can you help?

Maintaining healthy mental health in older adults is not just in the hands of them but the people around them. Here are some ways to help older adults have a healthy lifestyle and mental health.

Help them stay in touch with their friends/family: One can help older adults by assisting them in staying in touch with their friends and close ones. It is essential for them not to feel lonely and secluded; this might happen due to time and distance, as with time, the people close to them might move to different places of the world, making it difficult to stay in touch with them. Due to this, many older adults tend to be depressed. As technology develops, their close ones must teach them how to stay in touch with their loved ones through digital forms. This will help you have company and remain positive. 

Keeping the brain sharp: As one grows old, it is not just the body that gets weakened but also the mind. So, it is essential to maintain a healthy routine to exercise the brain and avoid cognitive decline as one age. One can help by spending time with the older adults and helping them solve crosswords, puzzles and board games. Reading books is also a great way to keep older adults’ minds active. 

Being physically active: Be it just a walk yo,ga, or even dancing, older adults need to engage in physical activity for their physical and mental well-being. One can accompany them when walking, or even pets are handy. Pets can be engageing for older adults and can help with mental and physical well-being. Being physically active gives them confidence and allows them to manage their chores, making them feel less dependent and lessening the risk of falling. Apart from all of this, exercise can also reduce the chances of depression, stress and anxiety in older adults. 

Getting a hobby: Older adults tend to feel the loss of purpose after retirement. This can be avoided with the help of hobbies. Everyone might have a personal wish list or bucket list; retirement is the perfect time to start ticking the boxes. Pottery, gardening, knitting, painting, or any other activity helps the older adult stay engaged. 

Volunteering: Many older adults find purpose in serving. In these cases, volunteering helps a great deal. There is no shortage of causes needing help, so there are many opportunities to contribute; one can help find the right suit for volunteering for older adults. Volunteering serves their purpose and helps with their physical and mental health as they feel valued and needed.

Apart from this, keeping a regular tab on their medication intake, documenting their medical records, and keeping an eye on any side effects of the medication and their moods is also crucial to helping older adults have healthy mental and physical health. 


Even when older adults have experienced more in life than others, it is essential to notice if they need help. Mental health in older adults is often ignored as people might feel like it is common for them to feel depressed or sad. Other than depression, they also suffer from a common disease called dementia. These diseases might make it difficult for older adults to cope with everyday activities and maintain a happy life. It is essential to identify when an older adult needs help and provide according to their needs. 


1. What are the mental health issues in the elderly?

The most common mental health issues in older adults are depression, dementia, anxiety, mental distress and suicide. 

2. How to deal with elderly mental health issues?

It is good to keep an open eye on the person’s daily activities, have an honest talk about what’s going on in their mind, have regular checkups, and not isolate them are some ways to keep up with an older adult’s mental health.

3. How can older adults improve their mental health?

Talking about mental health is still a stigma, especially when it comes to older adults. Older adults can improve their mental health by being open about how they feel and what they are going through and getting the needful help. Family or people around the person can also help by checking with the person regularly and keeping an eye on the activities of the older adult. 

4. What is the common mental health issue in older adults?

Depression and anxiety are the two common mental health issues in older adults. This is mainly due to loneliness and loss of sense of purpose.  

5. Does physical health affect mental health in older adults?

Yes, physical health does affect mental health. Sometimes, when older adults can’t function as they used to, for example, if they had a fall or have trouble walking due to an illness, they find themselves dependent on another person, making them question their purpose and look at themselves as a liability. This affects their mental health a great deal. 


The Information including but not limited to text, graphics, images and other material contained on this blog are intended for education and awareness only. No material on this blog is intended to be a substitute for professional medical help including diagnosis or treatment. It is always advisable to consult medical professional before relying on the content. Neither the Author nor Star Health and Allied Insurance Co. Ltd accepts any responsibility for any potential risk to any visitor/reader.

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