Mental Health Awareness for Older Adults

Sydney Codrington
May 24, 2023

As we wind down the month of May, we want to use this blog post to recognize Mental Health Awareness Month. there has been a growing recognition of the importance of mental health and well-being, especially among seniors. As the aging population continues to increase, it is imperative to address the mental health needs of older adults. 

The Prevalence of Mental Health Issues Among Seniors:

Many seniors face unique challenges such as retirement, loss of loved ones, chronic illnesses, and social isolation, which can significantly impact their mental well-being. It is estimated that one in four older adults experiences a mental health disorder, with depression and anxiety being the most common. Acknowledging and addressing these concerns is crucial for improving the overall quality of life for seniors.

According to an article from CNN and Kaiser Health News, a recent editorial in JAMA Psychiatry, Dr. Carmen Andreescu, and Dr. Helen Lavretsky noted that only about one-third of seniors with generalized anxiety disorder — intense, persistent worry about everyday matters — receive treatment. 

Considering that anxiety has been proven as one of the key factors leading to stroke, heart failure, coronary artery disease, autoimmune illness, and neurodegenerative disorders such as dementia, there should be more studies concerning older adults experiencing anxiety.

Anxiety is likely to go undetected among older adults. It can be any number of things such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, or phobias. 

“Up to 15% of people 65 and older who live outside nursing homes or other facilities have a diagnosable anxiety condition”, according to Dr. Andreescu.

Expanding Access to Mental Health Resources:

While Medicare has recognized the significance of mental health for seniors and has taken steps to include mental health services within its coverage, there is still room for improvement. 

Here are some ways we can enhance access to mental health resources for seniors:

a. Improving Patient Questionnaires: Many times anxiety goes undetected amongst seniors due to a lack of information. Encouraging more practitioners to ask more specific questions i.e. Do you have recurrent worries that are hard to control? Are you having trouble sleeping? Have you been feeling more irritable, stressed, or nervous? Are you having trouble with concentration or thinking? Are you avoiding things you normally like to do because you’re wrapped up in your worries?

b. Telehealth Services: Expanding tele-health options for mental health care can improve accessibility, especially for seniors living in rural or underserved areas. Medicare's recent expansion of tele-health coverage presents a valuable opportunity to bridge the gap and reach more seniors in need.

c. Educational Programs: Implementing educational initiatives to raise awareness about mental health issues among seniors and their caregivers is crucial. Virtual platforms like SecureSeniorConnections® can provide information on recognizing symptoms, seeking help, and reducing the stigma surrounding mental health.  

Integrating Mental and Physical Health:

It's important to realize that mental health and physical health are connected, and it's essential to address both holistically. Medicare should focus on promoting care models that bring together mental health providers and primary care physicians. This collaborative approach helps seniors achieve overall health and allows for early intervention in mental health concerns.

Community Support and Social Engagement:

The mental health of seniors can be greatly affected by loneliness and social isolation. To combat this, Medicare plans can partner with virtual community platforms that promote social engagement and are accessible nationwide. This includes activities like educational and interest-based workshops, support groups, and fitness and wellness classes.

It is important to acknowledge the significance of mental health for seniors and strengthen Medicare's role in promoting mental health awareness and access to resources. By targeting the unique challenges faced by older adults and implementing effective strategies, we can improve the well-being of seniors and provide them with the mental health care they need. Let us unite and advocate for a Medicare system that prioritizes mental health, supporting the mental well-being of our beloved seniors. Remember, mental health is important at every stage of life, and by supporting mental health for seniors, we can create a more compassionate and healthier society for everyone.