How can live-in care help prevent elderly mental health issues?
People of any age can experience poor mental health, and as many as one in four of the UK’s population is diagnosed with a mental health issue at some point in their lives. Each case is different and can have a significant effect on the person’s daily life and well-being.
- Mental health in the elderly is incredibly important, but not often discussed openly
- Some mental health problems are as the result of other conditions such as dementia
- It’s important to consider what options are out there to care for mental health concerns within the elderly
Mental health problems in the elderly are not often discussed, however approximately 15% of adults over 60 are diagnosed with a mental health issue. And, as the elderly are considered a vulnerable group, it’s important to understand and adapt care options to suit individuals and their conditions.
There are various causes of mental health problems – some may be genetic while others are caused by specific events or elements in the person’s lifestyle. Sometimes the cause is impossible to establish.
Mental health in older people
While poor mental health is common among older people, only a small percentage seek treatment. This may be partly due to the stigma that they feel is associated with mental illness and the fact that many elderly people are reluctant to admit to depression or ask for help.
In popular culture, people with mental illnesses are often portrayed in a very negative light, and this may influence how older people view mental health problems.
Many older people may also believe that talking about mental health isn’t the ‘done thing’. Public conversation and initiatives around mental health have improved over the last few decades, but some older people may have been brought up to simply get on with things, rather than acknowledge how they’re feeling.
There may also be an element of ageism affecting the mental health services that are available for older people, with budgetary restraints meaning that they may be viewed as less able to benefit from the services than younger people.
Depression and anxiety are very common issues that can affect individuals of all ages. It affects around 22% of men and 28% of women over the age of 65 yet it is estimated that 85% of them don’t receive any treatment.
One of the biggest factors that can contribute to mental health problems in the elderly, is loneliness and isolation. There are currently estimated to be 1.4m chronically lonely elderly people in England, according to Age UK.
Not only that, but dementia – a condition that at present affects over 44 million people worldwide – can have varying contributions to a range of mental health problems, including depression, OCD and schizophrenia.
Phobias can also limit what a person can do and in the worst cases can mean that an individual is unable to leave their home or have any normal kind of social life at all. Other mental health problems experienced by many people in the UK include schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, multiple personality disorder and post traumatic stress disorder.
These illnesses can cause people to have real challenges in their daily life and be experienced by anyone of any age. They may withdraw from friends and family, become reclusive and sometimes neglect their personal hygiene and fail to care for their appearance.
Often as a result, their self-esteem can be impacted too, as can their ability to manage things like their medication or money.
Risk factors for mental health problems in the elderly
There are a number of things that can contribute to mental health concerns in people of any age. In the elderly, the five key factors are considered to be:
- Negative discrimination
- Lack of participation in meaningful activities
- Lack of meaningful relationships
- Poor physical health
As we age, things we were once able to do suddenly aren’t as easy anymore and that can be difficult to face. Coupled with a decline in socioeconomic status following retirement – it can lead to physical health concerns and a lack of independence and social life.
In addition, with older age comes an increased likelihood to experience events such as the death of a spouse or other family members and friends. Bereavement and grief can then lead to other short and long term mental health concerns.
All of the above can result in isolation, loneliness and distress which might need longer term care and support. Companionship care especially, can be beneficial for those who are experiencing isolation and loneliness at home.
Depression in old age
The Royal College of Psychiatrists estimate that 20% of older people suffer from senior depression. This number rises to 40% of those in care homes but unfortunately many remain undiagnosed and untreated.
The good news is, there is a 75% recovery rate if treated. However, as the demographic least likely to see a GP, this can be difficult – therefore it’s important others be aware of the signs.
You may notice that a loved one seems to have lost interest in their usual hobbies and pastimes. They may be becoming increasingly isolated and reluctant to meet up with friends and family. They may even neglect their personal hygiene, which could be a strong indicator that something isn’t right.
Bear in mind that the older generation doesn’t always feel comfortable discussing emotions and feelings, so exercise restraint and don’t force them to open up if they don’t want to. Instead help them seek treatment from a professional. Age UK has a range of resources available to help you understand depression better.
Questions you can ask loved ones to gain a greater understanding of their feelings are:
- Have you often been bothered by feeling down, depressed or hopeless?
- Have you often been bothered by having little interest or pleasure in doing things?
These are the same types of questions medical professionals may ask your loved one to help them understand if they have a depressive disorder.
Symptoms can be different in men
In men, the more common symptoms of depression are:
- Irritability and anger
- Loss of control
- Greater risk-taking behaviour
There are a number of organisations that have been set up to support and help men to talk about their mental health.
Elderly isolation and loneliness
According to the Campaign to End Loneliness, social isolation is a rapidly increasing problem in the UK at present. The organisation reports that over half of people over the age of 75 live alone, with almost four million older people reporting that the television is their main source of company. Around 11 per cent of elderly UK residents report that they have contact with other people, whether neighbours, friends or family, less than once a month.
Older people may have lost a spouse, and as their closest friends pass away or move to be nearer to their families, they can quickly experience the isolation of loneliness, particularly if they have health problems that make it hard for them to get out and about. But even those in perfect health may find that loneliness has a profound impact on their day-to-day lives.
Financial problems may be a factor, as your loved one tries to save money by staying at home. They may not be able to drive or lack confidence on public transport which can play a big part in isolation too.
Research has proven that loneliness is detrimental to health, with one report estimating that the condition is as harmful as smoking fifteen cigarettes each day.
Loneliness is considered to be a greater risk to health than a lack of physical activity, and can be more damaging than obesity, with some research suggesting that loneliness can increase the chance of mortality by as much as 26 per cent.
People who are lonely are more susceptible to developing high blood pressure, stroke and coronary heart disease. Loneliness also increases a person’s chances of developing dementia by over 60 per cent, making it a very real threat to good health.
Mental health care for the elderly
Good care for mental health is incredibly important at any age, but especially for the elderly who may be generally more vulnerable and less likely to seek help.
Having the right care and support at home can help to:
- Prompt the recognition of potential mental health issues and offer support finding treatment
- Promote looking after, and recognising mental health in older adults
- Create living conditions that support a person’s wellbeing and allow them to live a healthy, independent life
- Provide security and freedom
- Offer social support, managing their social schedule to ensure they get out and about when they can
Promoting looking after mental health in the elderly largely involves two methods to ensure they have the resources to meet their needs – two of these are assistive technologies or live-in companionship care.
Technology & elderly mental health
We’re living in a technological age, and the elderly risk being left behind. Younger generations are leading the speed of development and rush of new technology, and many older people cannot or will not keep up.
Many deem it too complicated or unnecessary – what’s wrong with calling someone up on the phone? But technology can help reduce the feelings of loneliness that many elderly people experience every day.
Thanks to technology it is easier than ever to stay connected to family and friends who live overseas or a long way away. Email, Skype and other video calling and instant messaging services can help to unite people no matter where in the world they are.
Family can keep in touch on a daily or weekly basis, and share photos and other interesting snippets.
It’s important to remember that while technology is a useful tool in tackling loneliness in older people, it should partner real contact with people for effective care. Help to build up your loved one’s confidence with new technology slowly and with patience.
If they’re using it for the first time, focus on the benefits it can bring. Start with easy and engaging lessons such as looking at photos of grandchildren or holidays, and teach them to swipe the screen to scroll through them. This can help to show how it can benefit them and their lives.
Owning a tablet is a fantastic way to stay in touch with people and reduce the feelings of isolation. Boosting well-being can alleviate the onset of depression, which in turn cuts down on the cost of social and private care.
If your loved one is without the internet or a tablet, consider getting them set-up with this modern technology, and make sure you give them some basic lessons in how to use it. It could be more beneficial than you could ever imagine in raising their spirits and keeping loneliness at bay.
- Support with practical tasks around the home which may seem like a ‘burden’
- Meal planning and preparation, promoting a healthy diet
- Someone to talk to and confide in
- Friendship and companionship
- Allow them to carry on with daily activities
- Personal care support
- Help managing and attending social activities
- Support managing medication
- Money management
Frequently asked questions
One of the key things you can do to help the elderly with mental illness is encourage them to talk to someone – whilst this is often something they might not want to do, due to the stigma they might associate with mental health – it is the first step in seeking help and treatment. You can do this by promoting positivity around talking about the subject, and approaching it in a mindful, and indirect manner.
Whilst mental health concerns can affect people of any age, there are things that happen in later life which can contribute to a decline in mental health such as the death of a spouse, loneliness, functional decline, physical health conditions and a lack of socialisation.
There are a number of things which can cause loneliness in the elderly – it may be following the death of a spouse or due to being isolated from their friends and family. They might be struggling to socialise, or housebound due to an illness. Whatever it may be – it is important to talk to your loved ones as often as you can, and consider whether they may benefit from companionship care.